In reviewing film of Central Michigan, Tod Kowalczyk saw something unusual.
“Their transition offense is the best I’ve seen in college basketball in the last five years,” the University of Toledo coach asserted.
The Saturday evening audience at Savage Arena might have a different take. They saw the Chippewas operate with pedestrian tempo, the result of a plan executed by the Rockets to blunt CMU’s breakneck pace.
The secret? Mum is the word.
“We play them again so I’m not going to tell you,” he quipped.
The first of two meetings was a dandy, with the Rockets prevailing in overtime 76-72. Toledo (6-7, 2-0) is in sole lead of the Mid-American Conference West division.
Light on talent due to mass exodus of talent over the offseason, CMU (8-7, 1-1) is poised to cause headaches around the league because of its unconventional style of play. The Chippewas, under former national coach of the year Keno Davis, apply full-court defensive pressure from the opening tip. That philosophy complements nicely with their offensive approach, also predicated on pressure. On this night it delivered marginal success, as the Chips managed only two fast break points.
“We took them out of that,” Kowalczyk said. “That’s why we won the game.”
Julius Brown scored eight of his 21 points in overtime to go along with nine assists, and a career-high seven rebounds. He accounted for one of Toledo’s seven turnovers, a satisfactory number especially considering the Rockets needed to pass the ball three or four times just to cross half court.
Rian Pearson, fresh off a brilliant performance Wednesday at Kent State, posted 20 points. His slashing between two defenders for a lay up put his team in front by two near the end of regulation.
“We just had to grind it out and stay together the whole night,” Pearson said.
The game moved to overtime after Brown missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer from atop the key. It was not a textbook final sequence, and Kowalczyk wishes Brown would have been more aggressive early in the possession.
CMU’s Kyle Randall, an All-MAC caliber point guard, led his team with 24 points. He twice gave CMU a lead in overtime, knocking down a 3-pointer and moments later converting a lay up to make the score 70-69 with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left.
Brown responded with a jumper a foot or two inside the 3-point line and followed on the next possession with two free throws, upping the lead to 73-70.
Toledo, the MAC’s best free-throw shooting team, did not get to the line for the first 31 minutes of the contest. The Rockets finished 11 of 15 from the stripe, including 9 of 10 in the extra period.
“We definitely talked about being more aggressive toward their press defense,” said Brown, who has 19 assists and two turnovers over the past two games. “Coach also stressed to us about getting to the free-throw line.”
The game was decided, and the Rockets moved to 1-1 in overtime affairs, when reserve point guard Josh Lemons raised two hands in the face of Randall on a fruitless drive to the basket with 20 seconds left. Dominique Buckley snared the rebound and tossed ahead to Pearson.
“I think he’s the best defender on our team and we like to use him on their best player at the end of games,” Pearson said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.