The University of Toledo was able to advance to the quarterfinals of the First Energy MAC Tournament, but don't expect Central Michigan coach Ernie Zeigler to be making any congratulatory phone calls to the 419 area code.
Following the Rockets' contentious 75-72 win over Zeigler's Chippewas, Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk and Zeigler had heated words and appeared to bump into each other when the pair met in front of the scorer's table for what typically is the post-game handshake. It was a brief exchange, but the fire remained simmering well after the final horn.
"I have no comment about anything about Coach Kowalczyk," Zeigler responded when asked about how Kowalczyk's team responded to the Chippewas' full-court press.
Zeigler had just watched his team's furious rally fall short in the loss to Toledo. CMU had sliced what was a 15-point Rockets lead down to one in the final minute of regulation, but a pair of missed free throws by sophomore Trey Zeigler proved costly as the Chips could never get over the hump. Toledo converted seven of eight free throw attempts in the final :41 of play to put the game away.
Following the game Kowalczyk didn't want to discuss what was said between himself and Zeigler, either.
"It was just two competitive guys," he said before leaving the interview room.
Toledo started the game with a 20-9 run and never trailed. The Rockets did have problems taking care of the basketball against Central Michigan's full-court press, committing 17 turnovers, which allowed CMU to climb back into the game.
"We should have closed it out earlier," Kowalczyk said. "I thought their press got to us a little bit. We had 17 turnovers; that's about the only thing in the stat sheet that I didn't like."
CMU used an 11-1 run midway through the first half to pull within a point, but could never take a lead. The Rockets maintained a slight lead for most of the first half and built it up to 15 late in the second before the Chippewas late rally.
"Rian Pearson had 20 points and 15 rebounds and (Brown) just controlled the tempo of the game," Kowalczyk said. "When we needed a big play he made it."
Trey Zeigler, who connected on just one of 12 shots in CMU's first round win over sixth-seeded Bowling Green, had a solid night from the floor against Toledo. He hit 8-of-16 shots from the floor for 17 points, but was able to hit just 1-of-6 from the free throw line, including missing a pair with 13 seconds left in the game and Toledo clinging to a 72-69 lead.
"Trey Zeigler is a guy who, to be honest with you, the last four games lit us up pretty good," Kowalczyk said. "Tonight I thought we made him work for everything he possibly could. I thought that was the big difference in the game."
Brown, meanwhile, connected on 7-of-8 in the final 41 seconds of the game while Dominique Buckley cashed in a pair with four seconds left to ice the victory for Toledo.
"My teammates trust me with the ball down towards the end, but anyone on our team can make free throws at the end," Brown said. "They just give the ball to me and have the confidence that I'll put the free throws in."
The Rockets will now face third-seeded Ohio in the quarterfinals. Toledo defeated the Bobcats, 77-73, at the Convocation Center in Athens on Feb. 8.
Kowalczyk is not satisfied with one win.
"We're not here to win one game," he said. "It's about us trying to compete for a championship. Winning one game means nothing to us, to be honest with you. It's about us trying to win this thing. We think we're good enough. It's about one game at a time, but we didn't talk about coming to Cleveland and winning one game."
Kowalczyk also thinks Pearson, who only was selected to the MAC's All-Conference Second Team despite finishing third in the Player of the Year voting, has something to prove.
"He asked me today, who the coaches were that didn't vote for him," Kowalczyk said with a chuckle. "I told him all of them."