Basketball is a game of streaks, and that goes for wins and losses too.
Toledo’s 91-86 victory over Bowling Green in front of a packed house at the Stroh Center Saturday was the Rockets’ 11th straight win and the Falcons’ seventh straight loss.
No changes there, but what did change was the Falcons played toe-to-toe with the Rockets from the beginning to the end.
“That’s a heck of a college basketball game against two talented teams,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said.
“We knew we were coming into an environment — they are a wounded animal but tons of respect for their talent level,” Kowalczyk continued. “We know how good they are and we knew we’d get their best shot, and we did.”
For the first time in several games, there was no double-digit halftime deficit, but still the Falcons still came up short.
“It’s very exciting to watch knowing that we can do it but frustrating also because it’s what we should have been doing all year long,” BGSU coach Michael Huger said.
“Consistency is where it’s at. We have to learn to be consistent. They are a very good scoring team and they consistently put up those numbers.”
Despite never having a double-digit lead, Toledo improves to 21-6 overall and 12-2 in the Mid-American Conference, and Bowling Green falls to 10-17 and 4-10.
After scoring just eight points in the first half, Toledo junior guard RayJ Dennis turned on the afterburners in the second half, finishing with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting, along with seven rebounds, seven assists, and two steals.
After the Falcons led 34-32 at halftime, it was Dennis who took the Rockets under his wing, making outlandish double-pump reverse layups by somehow getting the ball past a defender and into the hoop.
“He won the game for them with his effort and just his will to want to win,” Huger said.
“He was able to put them on his back and was able to get clutch buckets when we made a comeback or whatever, and he was able to make a play. That’s what it boils down to, and that’s what you look for in your best player.”
Each team got five players into double figures, but a significant portion of the Falcons’ scoring was done by the bench, which outscored the Rockets’ bench 38-8.
BGSU senior guard Samari Curtis came off the bench making 7-of-13 shots in scoring a team-high 18 points with six assists.
Starting sophomore guard Kaden Metheny was 4-for-9 from the arc, scoring 16 points with seven assists and two steals.
Another bench player, 6-foot-7, 240-pound Gabe O’Neal did what he does best, throwing his weight around in the post, making 6-of-6 field goals and scoring 13 points with five rebounds.
Starting senior guard Brenton Mills played all but five minutes and 20 seconds, hitting 5-of-9 shots, including 3-for-6 from downtown, while scoring 13 points with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Senior starting guard Leon Ayers finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two steals.
As a team, BGSU shot 54% (32-for-59) from the field, 44% (11-for-25) from the arc, and made 11-of-13 free throws. The Falcons had a 30-25 advantage off the glass but had 14 turnovers to Toledo’s 11, including just four in the second half.
The game saw 12 ties and 12 lead changes with the Rockets on top for 21:52, the Falcons for 10:55.
The back-and-forth, fast-paced action provided great entertainment for the crowd of 4,151 — easily the largest to see a men’s basketball game at the Stroh Center this season. The Falcons appeared at time poised to pull off the upset.
After BGSU senior guard Leon Ayers hit one of two free throws earned when Toledo sophomore guard Ra’Heim Moss was whistled for a technical, the Falcons were up 44-38 with 16:52 remaining.
Toledo responded by scoring the next seven points and continuing on a 12-2 run to take a lead they would never relinquish again, although the Falcons responded by keeping the margin to within one or two possessions most of the remainder, even tying the game at 54-54 with 10:27 remaining.
But when it counted most, the Rockets made 16 straight free throws down the stretch to keep the Falcons an arm’s length away.
“Credit to them. They played a heck of a ballgame and hitting their free throws at the end,” Metheny said.
Toledo shot 51% (28-for-55) from the floor, hit 11-of-21 (52%) from downtown and made 24-of-28 (86%) from the charity stripe.
Toledo junior forward J.T. Shumate had 18 points and five rebounds and sophomore guard Dante Maddox Jr., after not taking a shot in the first half, was 3-for-3 from the arc and finished with 14 points and four assists.
Moss had 13 points and two steals, senior forward Setrick Millner Jr. had 11 points and four rebounds, sophomore forward Andre Lorentsson scored four points and sophomore guard E.J. Farmer and junior forward A.J. Edu scored two apiece for the Rockets.
For BGSU, junior forward Sam Towns had six points and four rebounds, junior forward Rashaun Agee scored five points, Bowling Green High School graduate Isaac Elsasser, a senior guard, contributed two points, and senior guard Chandler Turner had one point.
For the Falcons, the urgency increases exponentially if they want to make the top eight in the conference, qualifying them for the league tournament.
The Falcons hope to take the energy they demonstrated Saturday and find a way to qualify.
“I thought we came out strong, we came with togetherness and I think we can take that moving forward,” Metheny said.
“Toledo is a great basketball team and we showed what we are capable of tonight. If we can hang with them we can hang with anyone in the MAC, and we just have to use that going forward,” Metheny continued.