Rian Pearson and Julius Brown each scored 22 points, but the Rockets could not contain Western Michigan, as the Broncos defeated Toledo, 98-77, in the championship game of the Mid-American Conference Tournament Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.Western Michigan was led by senior guard David Brown’s 32 points. Tucker Haymond added 22, and senior center Shayne Whittington racked up 20 points and 13 rebounds. The Broncos controlled the boards, outrebounding the Midnight Blue and Gold, 46-27.
Toledo finishes its season with a 27-6 record and will have to wait until Sunday night to see if the NCAA Tournament selection committee will take the Rockets as an at-large team.
“We’re 27-6 with an [Ratings Percentage Index] of about 40. We absolutely deserve an at-large bid,” said Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk. “For us not to be mentioned is a slap in the face not only to us, but the entire Mid-American Conference.”
Toledo only trailed by two points at halftime, 42-40, but could not stop the Broncos in the second half. WMU shot a blistering 19 of 28 from the floor in the final 20 minutes to secure the victory.
Just as he did in Friday’s semifinal game vs. Eastern Michigan, Pearson came out smoking, scoring 16 points in the first half, including Toledo’s first nine points on two three-pointers and three free throws. However, WMU’s Brown, who matched Pearson’s 16 first-half point effort, knocked down a pair of three-pointers to push the Broncos out to a 21-14 lead at the 13:02 mark. Moments later, David Brown converted a three-point play to extend the lead to 24-14.
Toledo cut the margin to four, 27-23 on a triple by Julius Brown, but Hayman came right back with a three-pointer of his own. Pearson trimmed the lead back down to four, 37-33, on his third three-pointer of the half with 3:03 left. A minute later, Jonathan Williams knocked down a three to cut the lead to 38-36. A pair of free throws by UT’s Brown knotted the score at 38-38.
Western scored the next four points, but Toledo converted on its last possession of the half on a dunk by J.D. Weatherspoon at the horn on a beautiful feed by Brown to make the score 42-40 at intermission.
Western Michigan rebuilt its lead again in the early moments of the second half, as Connar Tava pumped in two field goals and a pair of free throws to give the Broncos a 50-42 edge with 17:46 left. Toledo countered with a cutting layup by Jordan Lauf to make the score 56-53, but David Brown hit a three-pointer and a layup to give the Brown and Gold a 61-53 advantage at the 13:15 mark.
Western kept the pressure on UT on another three-pointer by Brown at the 8:02 mark to move the lead to 10 points, 70-60. Yet another WMU triple, this one by Haymond, moved the lead to 73-62 less than a minute later. The Broncos gathered a loose ball under Toledo’s basket then turned it into a Richie Austin layup with 4:46 left to give WMU a 78-65 edge.
The Rockets suffered another blow when Nathan Boothe fouled out with 3:54 left trying to rebound a missed three-pointer by Julius Brown. Whittington converted both free throws, moving the lead to 84-68. Moments later, Whittington slammed home an alley-oop, effectively ending the Rockets’ hopes.