Visiting Western Michigan utilized an 8-0 run down the stretch to escape Savage Arena with a 65-62 triumph over Toledo on Wednesday evening to take sole possession of first place in the MAC West Division.
Junior F Reese Holliday led the Rockets offensively by tying his season high with 16 points, but it wasn't enough for UT. Joining Holliday in double figures were sophomore G Julius Brown (15 pts., team-high four asst.) and junior G Rian Pearson (14 pts., seven reb.).
Freshman F Darius Paul dominated the paint for the Broncos (18-9, 9-4 MAC), tallying a season-high 28 points and 12 rebounds, to help WMU record a 42-31 advantage on the glass.
Toledo (13-12, 8-5 MAC) limited WMU to a 36.4 shooting mark, but the Broncos held significant advantages in points in the paint (28-16) and at the charity stripe. Western Michigan knocked down 20-of-27 attempts (74.1 percent) compared to the Rockets' conference season-low 62.5 percentage (10-of-16).
Junior G David Brown, who scored all of his 15 points in the second half, began the Broncos' key late run with a pair of free throws at the 4:08 mark. Senior F Nate Hutchinson's layup then tied the score at 58-58 less than a minute later, and Paul's putback gave WMU the lead for good, 60-58, with 2:40 left. Brown then converted a steal into a breakaway layup 11 seconds later for a 62-58 advantage.
The Rockets' Brown then nailed a deep trey with 1:14 remaining to bring UT within 62-61. After both teams converted one of two free throws on their next possession to keep it a one-point contest, Hutcheson knocked down a pair of attempts from the charity stripe to put WMU up 65-62 with 22.1 seconds to play.
Toledo's Brown then missed a trey with 13 ticks left, but WMU's Shayne Whittington missed a pair of free throws to give the Rockets one more chance to tie. Senior G Dominique Buckley wasn't able to get a good look though and his game-tying shot came up short.
Neither team was able to take more than a three-point lead in the early stages until Holliday's third trey put the Rockets ahead 24-17 with just over five minutes remaining in the opening stanza. WMU rallied to even the score at 26-26 with a 9-2 burst and trailed 29-28 at halftime.
The lead then changed hands nine times in the second half with UT looking ready to pull away after Holliday buried another three for a 56-51 advantage with 5:44 to play. WMU's Brown answered that with a trey of his own and a Pearson layup gave the Rockets a 58-54 lead before the Broncos' critical spurt.
Toledo will look to bounce back from tonight's defeat when it hosts Ball State (12-14, 5-8 MAC) on Saturday, March 2. Tip-off time in Savage Arena is set for 2:00 p.m.