Toledo notched its 20th victory at Ball State on Saturday afternoon but it certainly wasn't easy. A young, scrappy Ball State squad put up a strong fight against the Rockets, but UT made the plays it needed to down the stretch to come away with an 80-73 victory.
The win kept Toledo on top of the MAC's West Division with a 20-3 overall record and an 8-2 win-loss mark in league play. UT's 20-win campaign is its first since 2005-06 as well as the 19th in the history of the Rockets' program.
Senior guard Rian Pearson paced Toledo with a game-high 20 points and came up with two huge plays in the final minute. Pearson first knocked down a baseline jumper for a 76-71 lead with 29 seconds left before diving for a steal on the Cardinals' ensuing possession to secure the victory.
Joining Pearson in double figures were junior guard Julius Brown (18 pts.), junior guard Justin Drummond (12 pts.) and sophomore center Nathan Boothe (11 pts.). UT was forced to play without Boothe and Brown down the stretch after the duo fouled out with 5:20 and 4:33 remaining, respectively.
Freshman guard Zavier Turner topped the Cardinals offensively with 19 points, while senior center Majok Majok registered a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Toledo shot 49.1 percent from the field but was just 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) from behind the three-point arc. The Rockets limited the Cardinals to a 39.2 FG% and forced BSU to turn the ball over on 21 occasions leading to a 25-9 advantage in points off turnovers. Both teams made 26 free throws as 50 fouls were called in the contest.
Pearson also tallied six rebounds and four steals in the game to help the Rockets garner their most thefts (11) against a Division I opponent this season. Junior forward J.D. Weatherspoon led UT with 11 rebounds, but Rockets lost the battle of the boards by a 39-33 margin.
Toledo built double-digit leads in each half only to see the Cardinals rally each time. UT established a 33-18 cushion midway through the opening stanza only to see BSU score 17 straight points to take a two-point lead. Pearson ended UT's 8:11 scoring drought before the half to send the teams to their locker rooms tied at 35-35.
The Rockets again broke away from the hosts with a 13-2 spurt for a 53-42 lead with 12:26 remaining, but Ball State responded with a 10-0 burst to cut its deficit to 62-61 with seven minutes left.
Brown's jumper put Toledo up five, 68-63, with 4:46 to play. but that was the last basket the Rockets' point guard would score. Brown appeared to block Turner's shot on the Cardinals' next trip down the court, but he was whistled for a foul as well as a technical leading to the first disqualification of his collegiate career.
Turner proceeded to knock down four straight free throws to again make it a one-point game, 68-67, with 4:33 on the clock.
UT immediately answered the ball without its floor general on its next possession as a Drummond layup put the Rockets up 70-67. Pearson then hit a jumper for a 73-69 lead with 2:34 to play before Turner hit a pair of free throws with 1:01 left to make it a one-possession game (74-71). Toledo then held the ball for the majority of the shot clock before a Pearson jumper following a Rocket timeout secured the win.