Julius Brown’s week has been compromised by vision problems.
The University of Toledo point guard sat out practice Monday, hunched over in the bleachers and draping a T-shirt over his face to shield his eyes from the lights at Savage Arena. A painful reaction to the solution for the contacts he recently started wearing left him incapacitated.
Two days later Brown’s vision was again obstructed, this time by the outstretched hand of a Buffalo defender. Of the 4,500-plus folks inside Savage Arena, only one of them did not see Brown’s 18-footer tickle the net as time expired in a enthralling battle of Mid-American Conference title contenders.
A shot that Brown called the biggest of his life lifted the Rockets to a stirring 67-65 win, inciting a stampeding of the court by the student sections and capping the most memorable night of the Chicago-area native’s prodigious college career.
PHOTO GALLERY: Buffalo at Toledo
Brown earlier notched his 1,000th career point, making him just the fourth player in program history to clear that achievement while also recording 400 assists.
“When I released the ball I couldn’t see where it was,” Brown said.
“I didn’t see it go in actually.”
The win snapped a six-game losing skid to Buffalo and improved UT’s record in games decided by four points or less to 6-0.
Moreover, the Rockets (14-2, 2-1) will be feeling good heading into Saturday’s clash at Akron, which is being billed as a possible preview of the MAC title game.
Walking to the podium at the postgame news conference, Brown stopped and gazed over the shoulder of a photographer who had pulled up an image of the game-winner on his laptop. The make, which finalized a frenetic final 2.4 seconds, was Brown’s second-game winner of the year, although the baseline floater he drained in an exhibition against Hillsdale College fades to the background against the more recent highlight.
“I would have to say,” Brown said, chuckling.
The final sequence played out similarly to last year’s Miami game when center Nathan Boothe caught two passes to move Toledo down the court before hitting a winning 3-pointer at the horn. Buffalo’s Shannon Evans drove to his left for an easy layup on the previous possession, marking the game’s fourth tie in the final two minutes and causing Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk to call timeout.
The 6-foot-9 Boothe played a secondary role this time, snaring a full-court pass from Matt Smith roughly 30 feet from the basket. Brown, racing behind the play, took the handoff and stormed to his favorite spot — on the right shoulder — for his 20th point of the night. He uncorked the ball with 1.1 seconds showing.
“One-hundred percent confidence,” coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We got the ball in the right guy’s hands.”
Give Smith a hand. The fifth-year senior, who lost his starting job this season and has seen his minutes dwindle further in MAC play, sat the bench all half until that moment.
“Matt has unbelievably big hands,” said J.D. Weatherspoon, who watched from the bench. “He throws the basketball like a football.”
Storming the court were students sitting in the bleachers behind both baselines. They were as boisterous as they’ve been in some time, erupting after Weatherspoon rattled the rim with a couple of second-half dunks — one on a Brown lob, the other off a Rian Pearson miss. Weatherspoon (13 points, seven rebounds) followed with a corner 3 at the 11:51 mark, giving him seven points in a two-minute spurt for Toledo’s first lead — 44-43 — of the half.
Pearson scored 12 points but needed 15 shot attempts to do it. Justin Drummond, who had 13 points and seven rebounds, was physical around the rim and induced the fourth foul on Buffalo star Javon McCrea battling for a loose ball.
McCrea, the favorite for MAC player of the year, did what he does, going for 20 points and 10 rebounds. Former Rocket Josh Freelove keyed an early 13-point lead for Buffalo, scoring eight of his 16 points in the opening eight minutes.
UT’s Brown, the MAC’s leader in assists, had six and knocked down all eight of his free-throw attempts.
Kowalczyk admitted he was concerned about the eye condition of his point guard and even suggested Brown wear goggles. Brown so far is refusing.
“Can’t say enough about Juice,” Kowalczyk said. “He decided to come play for Tod Kowalczyk when we won four games and the program was in dire straits.”