The Bowling Green State University men’s basketball team entered Monday’s Mid-American Conference first-round tournament game knowing which University of Toledo players it had to stop.
Or at least the Falcons thought they knew.
Stop Jonathan Williams, or at least force him to take a lot of shots to get his points, and you can slow the Rockets, right? And make Steve Taylor work to get the ball inside and score, right?
IN PICTURES: Toledo 77, Bowling Green 62
MIRRORS OF SPORT: UT rebounds nicely, while BG looks up
Well, that certainly was wrong at Savage Arena Monday night.
The Rockets got production from a number of “other” options and blew out their arch-rivals 77-62 to advance to the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament to face No. 2 seed Ohio.
That contest will be played at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday starting at 6:30 p.m.
The big names for the Rockets got their points. Williams finished with 18 points but also had five assists, often serving as a decoy while setting up teammates for easy baskets, while Taylor nearly posted a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
But sophomore Jaelan Sanford had 12 points and five assists, while redshirt freshman Luke Knapke scored 12 points with seven boards.
And Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said an unusual lineup helped Toledo pull away in the second half.
“I thought a huge key was that stretch in the middle of the second half when we had Knapke on the floor with [Nate] Navigato, Jordan Lauf, Jaelan and Justin Roberts,” Kowalczyk said. “That lineup really was good for us tonight.
“That took us from six to 15 in a hurry. I'm just proud of that group.”
Lauf, a Napoleon native, nearly had a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds, while Navigato added eight points and four boards.
Senior Wes Alcegaire finished with 17 points while Springfield High School grad Demajeo Wiggins had 10 points to lead Bowling Green, which saw its season end with a 13-18 record.
And it was a disappointing performance in the eyes of Falcons coach Michael Huger.
“We reverted back to the 'old' Bowling Green team where everybody wants to do it on their own,” he said. “We stopped sharing the basketball, we went to individual basketball.
“And we lost.”
Both teams came out firing offensively, with UT’s Knapke making his first three shots and scoring seven points in the first four minutes.
That helped the Rockets build an early 14-8 lead.
“I had my role, but Steve drew a lot of attention,” Knapke said. “Once I got going, it became more of a habit for me to look for some offense.”
Then it was Wes Alcegaire’s turn to get hot as the Bowling Green senior scored seven quick points to help the Falcons trim their deficit to 19-17 with 12:43 on the clock.
Sanford hit a 3-pointer for Toledo, Rasheed Worrell responded with a basket in the paint soon after — and then suddenly the scoring stopped.
It took almost four minutes for Bowling Green to score its next basket — Zack Denny made a jumper in the lane — but the Rockets went more than six minutes without collecting any points.
Taylor Adway hit a jumper with 5:43 on the clock to finally end the UT drought.
From that point the margin vacillated, with Toledo not leading by more than five points while BG cut its deficit to one when Worrell scored with 1:16 left to make the score 29-28.
Williams’ 3-pointer with 39 seconds left in the first period gave the Rockets a 32-28 halftime advantage.
“The first half I thought we played really hard and did some good things defensively,” Kowalczyk said. “We had eight turnovers at halftime and nine assists, which was great. We moved the ball well.
“I thought we got some good looks but I thought our defense at that time really kept us in the game.”
Toledo came out firing to start the second half, scoring on its first three possessions to create a 40-30 cushion at 18:16 of the period. Knapke connected on an old-fashioned three-point play to start things, Taylor made a jumper and Jordan Lauf drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner for the points.
Bowling Green called timeout to stop the run, then responded with a run of its own as Wiggins got an and-one basket and foul before Caldwell made a 3-pointer from the top of the key that made the score 40-36 with 17:08 still to play.
From that point the Rockets exploded. They used an 11-2 run to suddenly push their advantage to 53-40 with 11:29 on the clock.
Then after a basket by BG’s Dylan Frye, Toledo scored the next 12 points to rest comfortably on a 65-42 cushion with 7:55 still to play.
“We were missing layups and shots, and that led to them in transition,” Huger said. “And we weren't able to get back, which led to their open layups and 3s.”
The Falcons made just 2 of 5 shots and did not have a single offensive rebound while turning the ball over five times; Toledo connected on 7 of 11 with three offensive boards that led to baskets.
“I thought we got some steals, Knapke got some blocks, and we rebounded the ball,” Kowalczyk said. “That's not a great rebounding lineup, but Navigato had two or three rebounds in traffic and that certainly led to good things for us.”
While the Falcons offense struggled, their bigger problems were on defense. The 6-11 Knapke, often guarded by the 6-6 Alcegaire when Taylor was on the floor, made 4 of 5 shots and 4 of 4 free throws.
“He just gets better and better every day,” Kowalczyk said of Knapke. “He's going to be a very good player for us. He's coachable, he's teachable. He has an unbelievable heart and a great family. I love coaching him.”
And BG’s point guards could not contain Sanford’s drives to the basket as he went 4-for-9 while making all three free throws.
Toledo’s offense eventually slowed, but the Falcons needed a 13-4 finish in the final to minutes to trim their deficit to the final margin.
Other MAC games
WESTERN MICHIGAN 65, MIAMI 61
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Tucker Haymond scored 16 points, Thomas Wilder had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Reggie Jones had 13 points and eight rebounds as Western Michigan beat Miami in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Western Michigan (16-15) advanced to play Ball State (20-11) on Thursday. The Broncos have won nine straight and 10 of their last 11.
Miami (11-21) led 35-28 at halftime and had its last lead of the game at 49-48 with 9:44 remaining.
EASTERN MICHIGAN 72, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 69
YPSILANTI, Mich. — James Thompson IV scored 21 points with 11 rebounds and Ray Lee added 20 points for Eastern Michigan.
Ty Toney blocked Eugene German’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer to preserve the win. Eastern Michigan (16-16) will play top-seed Akron (24-7) in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Lee’s 3-point play off a layup made it 71-63 with 3:26 to go and Eastern Michigan held on. The Eagles missed their lone shot attempt after Lee’s bucket and went 1-for-6 from the foul line down the stretch.
Marin Maric led Northern Illinois (15-17) with 24 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Levi Bradley added 17 points and German 10.
KENT STATE 116, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 106
KENT, Ohio — Jalen Avery scored 17 of his career-high 24 points in overtime for Kent State, which got 33 points and 13 rebounds from Jimmy Hall.
The sixth-seeded Golden Flashes (19-13) advance to play No. 3 seed Buffalo (17-14) in Thursday’s quarterfinal.
Marcus Keene’s 3-pointer put the Chippewas up 94-91 in OT, but Avery hit back-to-back 3s amid a 12-4 run and the Golden Flashes led 103-98. Central Michigan closed to 103-101 on another Keene 3, but Avery again replied with a 3-pointer and Kent State pulled ahead 111-104 on his free throw with 41 seconds left. Avery sealed it with four free throws in the final 25 seconds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bowling Green’s Zack Denny has his shot blocked by Toledo’s Nate Navigato Monday night. BLADE/LORI KING