By EVAN MEYER
AKRON, OHIO – Senior guard Julius Brown hit a 17-foot left wing jumper with 1.7 seconds remaining to give the Toledo Rockets a 68-66 victory over the Akron Zips Wednesday night at Rhodes Arena.
With the victory, Toledo (17-9, 9-4 MAC) moved into a first place tie with Central Michigan atop the Mid-American Conference’s Western Division and in a four-way tie for the top seed in the upcoming 2015 MAC Tournament with Bowling Green and Kent State, as well as CMU.
“It was a heck of a basketball game.” Rockets head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “Two teams going toe-to-toe for 40 minutes coming down to one possession. It was great to be a part of it.”
(CLICK READ MORE TO CONTINUE . . . )
When asked about his winning shot, Brown said “Once I got the ball in my hands, I wanted to be aggressive and try to make a big play for my team.”
Akron (17-9, 8-5 MAC) dropped consecutive games for the first time since mid-December and saw its nine-game winning streak come to an end.
“It was a tough deal for us.” Zips head man Keith Dambrot said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win…I am disappointed we didn’t win. We didn’t make enough plays offensively.”
Freshman guard Antino Jackson led UA with a career-high 14 points with three assists and two steals, while senior Deji Ibitayo came off the bench to score 11 with four rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
Both teams were coming off losses on Saturday. It was the visitors who came out strong at the start, hitting four of their first five shots as they opened a 14-9 lead at the 13:16 mark on a slam dunk by Weatherspoon en route to scoring nine points in the opening period.
UA stayed with the Rockets and tied the score 15-15 at the 11:15 mark on a pair of free throws by junior Reggie McAdams.
UT pushed the lead back out to five 22-17 at the 8:31 mark on a layup by Boothe. UA closed the deficit to three, 24-21, on a driving layup by Antino Jackson before the Rockets used a 9-2 run to open their largest lead of the first half, 33-24, at the 3;17 mark on a Weatherspoon free throw.
UA responded by scoring seven straight points to close to within two, 33-31. Antino Jackson later hit both ends of a one-and-one free throw before a pair of free throws by Brown gave UA a 38-36 lead at halftime.
“We played through foul trouble in the first half.” Dambrot said. Junior Pat Forsythe had three personal fouls, including a technical foul for an elbow, while Antino Jackson and Aaron Jackson each had two. UA totaled 12 team fouls in the opening half.
In the first 20 minutes, UT shot an even 50 percent from the field (13-of-28). A majority of their baskets came from around the rim as they made just one shot from beyond the three-point line. UA was not as effective from close range, missing numerous shots while going 12-of-33 from the floor (36.4). The rebounds were even at 17-17 and there were just six combined turnovers.
At the start of the second half, The Zips tied the score 40-40 on a layup by Aaron Jackson before the Rockets seized the lead right back. Toledo built as much as a six-point advantage 51-45 on a pair of free throws from senior Justin Drummond, who finished the game with just four points.
“We did a good job on Drummond, and (sophomore Jonathan) Williams.” Dambrot said. Williams scored only four points as well.”
UA then scored seven straight points within a 31 second span to take a 52-51 lead -- the last being a three from the right arc by McAdams at the 12:54 mark.
The remainder of the game was played within a window of five points. Akron took its final lead of the game, 59-57, on a free throw by freshman Malcolm Waters.
UA played the game without freshman point guard Noah Robotham, who was out with the flu. Dambrot mixed and matched, getting contributions throughout the lineup. Two parts came from Antonio Jackson who was making his first ever start, and Walters, a walk-on who only played nine minutes and scored three points. However, it was his defense and confidence that grew in this game.
When asked about Walters, Dambrot said “I thought he was terrific tonight. He played great defensively. We learned something new today (on the play of Walters).”
After the visitors opened as much as a three-point lead in the closing moments, UA responded tying the score three times. The last was at 66-66 on a three from the left arc by McAdams, who finished the evening with eight points at the 3:24 mark.
There would be no further scoring until Brown’s game winning jumper. The senior leader scored UT’s last five points en-route to scoring 11 of his 21 in the second period, with a majority of them coming in key situations.
“Over the years, my teammates trust me” Brown said. “I have gained the trust of the coaches and my teammates. It is an honor that they trust me so much (To have the ball in those key situations).”
The Zips had one final chance to tie or possibly win the game. However the long pass from the baseline underneath the basket was intercepted as time expired and the Rockets came away with a season sweep of the series.
UT cooled off a little in the second half, going 12-of-29 from the field (41.4%) and finishing the game at 45.5 percent (25-of-55). Toledo narrowly won the rebound battle 33-32.
The Zips, meanwhile, improved their shooting marginally in the second 20-minute period, hitting 12-of-28 from the floor (42.9%). Over 40 minutes, they finished at 39.3 percent (24-of-61). The two teams combined for 19 turnovers (10 by UT and nine by UA).
I’m not happy with the loss, but our guys showed tremendous resiliency tonight.” Dambrot said.
Both teams return to action on Saturday. Akron is at home facing Miami for the first time this season. Toledo heads to Kalamazoo to battle Western Michigan.