Rockets lose 12th-straightWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In their final home game this season at Savage Arena on Mar. 1, the Rockets put on a performance that was indicative of how many of the team’s contests have gone under first-year Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk. Hampered by youth, injuries and a lack of scholarship players, Toledo just didn’t have the horses in the stable to compete at a consistently high level this year, and it was evident in its’ 68-56 loss to Central Michigan on Senior Night.
“As been the case with a lot of our games this year, I thought the first five to seven minutes was a big part of the game,” Kowalczyk said. “We put ourselves behind the 8-ball. I thought the last 13 minutes of the first half we played tremendous, very inspired. I thought we defended. I thought we got ourselves right back in the game. In the second half, [we had] some of the problems we’ve had all year: more turnovers, handling pressure, handling presses.
“It came back to bite us. We just never could find ourselves to have a run.”
Toledo (4-26, 1-14 Mid-American Conference) was led by junior walk-on guard Jay Shunnar’s 20 points, 18 of which came in the second half. Shunnar shot eight-of-nine from the field and three-for-four from behind the arc against the Chippewas (10-19, 7-8 MAC).
“I think the hardest part about being a walk-on and then playing a lot is kind of knowing your role,” Shunnar said. “Sometimes I struggle with that. Coach [Kowalczyk] has a lot of confidence in me, told me to be aggressive, and I just tried to do that tonight and try to do that as much as possible.”
Sophomore guard Malcolm Griffin and sophomore forward Hayden Humes also finished in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Despite outscoring Central Michigan 36-22 in the paint and 12-2 on second chance points, the Rockets fell to the Chippewas in large part due to their turnovers. Toledo’s 16 turnovers led to 18 points for Central Michigan.
In the first half, the Chippewas knocked down two three-pointers and jumped out to a 6-0 lead over the Rockets less than a minute-and-a-half into the contest. Central Michigan extended that lead to 11 points after John Morris’ trey made it 15-4 by the 12:20 mark, prompting a timeout from Kowalczyk. Toledo answered with a 10-0 run to make it 15-14 after Griffin’s jumper with 6:36 remaining in the period.
The Chippewas countered with an 8-0 run to lead 23-14 by the 3:26 mark, but the Rockets poured in seven more points before the break to trail 24-21 at halftime. Neither team shot the ball well in the first 20 minutes of play as Central Michigan went eight-for-26 from the field, while Toledo was 10-of-27. However, the Rockets outscored the Chippewas 16-6 in the paint and had six second chance points to Central Michigan’s two.
Toledo started the second half with a 7-4 run to tie the game at 28 apiece after Griffin’s bucket at the 16:30 mark. Shunnar got the and-one on his layup with 8:31 remaining in the contest to make it 47-41, but the Chippewas outscored the Rockets 12-5 by the 3:07 mark to lead 59-46 and put the game out of reach. The loss marked Toledo’s 12th-straight, the second longest losing streak in school history.
After the game ended, senior forwards Justin Anyijong and Anthony Wright were honored at center court with members of their family, which was preceded by Kowalczyk saying a few words to the fans, including apologizing for the Rockets’ play this season.
“I think they deserve better,” Kowalczyk said of the fans. “We have not played consistently enough. We have not played like we want to play. I certainly know we’re not playing like the fans want us to play, but they come out every night and support us and they deserve better, and I thought it appropriate to say that we as a program are sorry. It’s going to get better.”
The Rockets will be in action again on Mar. 5 when they travel to Ypsilanti, Mich. to take on Eastern Michigan (8-20, 4-10 MAC) at 2 p.m. for their final regular season game.