Toledo’s Steve Taylor, Jr., top, grapples with Ball State’s Francis Kiapway and Trey Moses, bottom, for a loose ball during the game at Savage Arena. Ball State won, 82-74, on the strength of 14 3-pointers. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
The Tayler Persons show rolled into Toledo during the first half, and Ball State stayed hot from 3-point range all night, spoiling Senior Night for the University of Toledo basketball team in an 82-74 Cardinals win Tuesday at Savage Arena.
Persons caught fire from the beginning of the game and, just eight minutes in, had scored 20 of Ball State’s first 22 points, including a 6-for-6 mark on 3-pointers.
“Not the way we envisioned Senior Night,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I thought we had some really good preparation coming into the game, but to be honest with you, what happened tonight was that we ran into a player that was unbelievably hot and broke our spirit.
“Give Tayler Persons credit,” Kowalczyk said. “He had 24 at halftime and banked in two 3s. ... He had just one of those nights where the basket was unbelievably big, and it took a lot of the wind out of our sails in the first half.”
IN PICTURES: Rockets fall under barrage of 3s
After Persons scored 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the opening half, Ball State went into the locker room with a 41-36 lead.
“I would say it was very demoralizing,” UT senior guard Jonathan Williams said. “He started off 6-for-6 from behind the 3 and a couple hit off the glass. He’s a tough player. Not to take anything away from him, he’s a tough player to guard. It’s just demoralizing when you try your best to guard him and he’s knocking 3’s down religiously.”
Williams led the Rockets (15-15, 8-9 MAC) with 23 points and senior Steve Taylor, Jr., added 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Persons finished with 31 points to lead Ball State (19-11, 10-7 MAC), Franko House had 17, Ryan Weber scored 14, and Francis Kiapway finished with 12.
Ball State pushed out its lead to as many as 15 points after a House layup gave the Cardinals a 57-42 lead with 14:11 left.
A jumper by UT sophomore Taylor Adway with 4:51 left cut the Ball State lead to four at 68-64, but House responded with a 3-pointer on the next Cardinals possession to stretch the lead back out to seven at 71-64.
Adway contributed eight points, five rebounds, and a blocked shot in 13 minutes of action off the bench.
“He brought us some energy in the second half, and I was proud of him,” Kowalczyk said. “We were struggling defensively a little bit during that stretch. He came in and got a blocked shot and a couple of rebounds, and he scored in the post for us as well. He got a dunk, and then the post move at the end of the shot clock I thought was big.”
Two free throws by Williams cut the Ball State lead back to five points at 75-70 with 52 seconds left, but three free throws by Kiapway and two by Persons on three consecutive possessions padded the lead to 80-70 with 25 seconds left.
With six seconds left in the game and the game out of reach, UT senior Zach Garber checked into the game for the first time since playing against Buffalo in the MAC opener Jan. 3. Garber, who is still healing from a broken foot, made the final jumper of the game in a fitting end to his Senior Night.
Kowalczyk said he thought about it a lot this week and with Garber playing in too many games to be eligible for a redshirt, he decided Garber deserved that kind of moment for his final home game.
After Garber checked in for Williams, the rest of the seniors were on the bench cheering for the shot to go in.
“I was proud of Zach,” Williams said. “He’s been a leader throughout his whole career, and I appreciate everything he has done for this program. To see him go out there was good enough for me, but to score a bucket, I’m even more excited.”
Toledo gave up a season-high 14 3-pointers to Ball State, which shot 45.2 percent from beyond the arc in the game. Aside from Persons’ six 3-pointers, House and Kiapway added three 3-pointers each.
Toledo, which came into the game in third place in the MAC West, will need to bounce back quickly for the regular season finale at Eastern Michigan on Friday. With a lot of the seeding for the MAC tournament left to be determined, Toledo will need a win to help get a home game to start the tournament. The top four seeds get a bye to the quarterfinals in Cleveland, while seeds No. 5-8 host first round games.
“In our eyes, there is still a lot of basketball to play,” Williams said. “We’re going to get back to the drawing board and go to Eastern and lock in and do what we need to do to win and put us in a good position.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.
Jordan Lauf (25) hooks the ball in for the Rockets over Ball State's Tahjai Teague (25) during the first half of the contest. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH