UT loses ninth-straight game and HollidayWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Feb. 18, an already long season got longer for the Rockets when they found out that freshman guard Reese Holliday would be out for the remainder of the season due to a stress fracture in his foot. Without Holliday’s team-leading 6.6 rebounds per contest and only five scholarship players at its’ disposal, Toledo got outrebounded 36-22 and fell 75-58 to Eastern Illinois in Savage Arena Feb. 19 in its’ ESPNU Sears BracketBuster contest.
“I thought without Reese, we physically just got pushed and just got out-toughed a little bit,” Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We got beat to some offensive rebounds, particularly in the first half. They played a pretty good 2-3 zone, but we don’t have anybody that can consistently step up and help [Griffin].”
One player who did step up was junior guard Jay Shunnar, who finished with a team-high 16 points and hit three of his five three-point attempts.
“I thought Jay was good tonight,” Kowalczyk said. “Jay needs to do it every day. He needs to be more consistent.”
Shunnar was one of two walk-ons who started for the Rockets (4-23, 1-11 Mid-American Conference) against the Panthers (9-18, 4-12 Ohio Valley Conference), the other being freshman forward Jess Chadwell, who had four points in 20 minutes of play.
“We started two walk-ons tonight,” Kowalczyk said. “Find another team in the country that started walk-ons tonight. Seriously, go look. Guarantee you there’s not another team in the country that started two walk-ons.”
Senior forward Justin Anyijong also finished with double figures in scoring for Toledo with 12 points.
“With our offensive flow, we try to balance our inside-out [game], and with Reese, he was playing a big part [and] averaging a lot of minutes,” Anyijong said of the shorthanded Rockets. “That’s kind of hard to fill in there.”
In the first half, the Panthers opened up an early 9-2 lead by the 17:21 mark. Toledo responded with a 10-4 run to make it 13-12 with 12:38 remaining after freshman forward Delino Dear’s layup. Eastern Illinois then outscored the Rockets 15-8 and held a 28-20 advantage with 1:52 left before the half, but a layup from Shunnar and a trey from Anyijong made it 28-25 by the 1:04 mark.
Sophomore guard Malcolm Griffin drove the lane and found an open Shunnar for the three-pointer on the left wing to make it 30-28 with 24 seconds remaining before halftime, but Jeremy Granger answered with an uncontested, running trey to beat the buzzer and give the Panthers a 33-28 lead at the break. Toledo shot 45 percent from the field in the first half and had just four turnovers, but Eastern Illinois scored seven points off those miscues and outscored the Rockets 12-8 in the paint. The Panthers also held an 18-8 advantage on the boards. Only one of Toledo’s first half rebounds was on the offensive glass.
“He brings that grit, that toughness to the team that we need,” Shunnar said of Holliday. “Something he does that helps us the most is he keeps possessions alive. Guys miss a shot, Reese is usually there to get that offensive rebound, and we need those possessions. That’s something that we were missing tonight.”
Those struggles continued in the second half, where Eastern Illinois’ lead grew to as many as 18 as it cruised to the 17-point victory. The Panthers outscored the Rockets 30-16 in the paint and had 20 points off Toledo’s 11 turnovers. Eastern Illinois never trailed in the contest and had four players reach double figures in scoring, led by Granger’s 20 points.
“Our guys played hard,” Kowalczyk said. “We’re just not a very good team right now. We’re down to five scholarship guys. We’re asking some guys to step up and play roles that maybe they’re not capable of playing right now, but it’s a good experience for them and I think it will help us for the future.”
The Rockets will be in action again on Feb. 23 when they head to Kalamazoo, Mich. to take on Western Michigan (15-10, 7-4 MAC) at 7 p.m.