In a matchup of two teams expected to contend in their respective divisions of the Mid-American Conference, Toledo and Buffalo staged a thriller at Savage Hall. The visiting Bulls led by as many as 13 points in the first half but the Rockets, who at one point were 12-0 this season, fought their way back into the game. And with their being numerous lead changes in the second half it was fitting that the game would be decided as time expired.
Enter Toledo guard Julius “Juice” Brown, whose jumper as time expired gave the Rockets the 67-65 victory. The play was well-executed by all three players involved with Matt Smith’s baseball pass finding Nathan Boothe, who quickly got the ball to Brown for the game-winning shot. While the stakes on Wednesday clearly aren’t as high as they would be in a postseason setting, this does look similar to what Valparaiso pulled off to beat Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA tournament.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.