Toledo in unfamiliar territory at 4-1Written by Mike Bauman | | email@example.com
As Toledo labored through a 4-28 campaign in Tod Kowalczyk’s first year at the helm last season, much of the talk surrounding the struggling Rockets was about next year and building for the future of the program. Through its first five games, UT has shown that future looks bright, already equaling last season’s win total with an 82-67 victory over UIC at Savage Arena on Saturday night.
“Expected; expected,” Kowalczyk said on the Rockets reaching last year’s win total already. “[I’m] disappointed that we’re not 5-0. I thought we left one out there at Texas State. Had they not been our first game, I think we would have won that game.”
Part of success is learning how to handle it. Toledo (4-1) looked like a team that wanted to show fans that this was indeed a new and improved squad in the first half, shooting 55.2 percent from the field as it forced the Flames (2-3) into 14 turnovers. The active Rockets were led by sophomore guard Rian Pearson, who put up 17 points in the first 20 minutes. After committing just four turnovers in the first half, though, Toledo ended up with 14 for the contest.
“The second half—to be honest with you—this is what we’ve got to get a lot better at,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought our ability to handle success was very poor. [We were] up 20, and we acted like a team that’s the fifth-youngest team in the country. We got giddy instead of getting serious and getting down to business. When you have a chance to put away a team, championship teams do that.
“We’ve got some work [and] a long way to go to get to that level, but we didn’t handle success.”
That was evident early in the second half when sophomore forward DeLino Dear stole the ball and tossed a pass upcourt to freshman point guard Julius “Juice” Brown, who had the path for a layup. Instead of taking the layup, however, Brown opted to lob the ball high off the glass for a follow-up dunk from the trailing Pearson, but the play failed and resulted in zero points for UT.
“We talked about it,” Kowalczyk said. “And you know what? Juice Brown is a very good basketball player, a tremendous person. It won’t happen again.”
Brown finished the game with 17 points and a team-high four assists, while Pearson had a game-high and career-best 27 points.
“If we set the tone early, then we know what’s in store for the second half,” Pearson said. “In the second half, we kind of backed off. But we’ve got to keep our pressure on second half. Coach [Kowalczyk] wasn’t too proud of us with the second half.”
And though UT was happy to give local fans a win in its first home game, Kowalczyk said the road trip to Texas to start the season was more important than what happened on Saturday night.
“Playing on the road is what championship teams need to be successful with,” Kowalczyk said. “We need to play well on the road. I thought in Texas we grew up. We got better. We played well. Obviously, we’ve got another game at home and then we go back on the road, which is good for us.”
A listed crowd of 4,093 took in the Rockets’ first home game of the 2011-12 campaign, only 362 off last year’s average attendance at Savage Arena.
“I think people are genuinely excited about the future of our program, but still cautiously excited, and rightfully so,” Kowalczyk said. “I’d like to think that hopefully we can get better, continue to grow. When Curtis [Dennis] comes back, we add another really good perimeter player. I think this team has a chance to be good. We’re far from where we want to be, but I think we have a chance to be.”
Kowalczyk is right in that the Rockets do have a long way to go. If you’re a Toledo fan, though, at least they’re off to a good start.
Humes leads Flames in return to T-Town
Though he didn’t leave Savage Arena with the win, UIC sophomore forward and former Rocket Hayden Humes left Toledo Saturday night with a productive personal outing against his former teammates, leading the Flames with a team-high 11 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes of play off the bench.
“It was pretty neat because we played all the games last year,” Humes said of seeing his old teammates. “[We wanted to] get the win, but obviously we didn’t.”
Both Humes’ career at UT as well as the way it ended was difficult. The 6-foot-8, 215-pounder received a medical redshirt as a freshman with the Rockets in 2009 after tearing his ACL prior to the season starting. Then, after suffering through his second school-worst 4-28 campaign under his second collegiate head coach in 2010-11, Humes left Toledo after discovering that UT would lose three scholarships for the 2011-12 campaign.
The Rockets failed to have an Academic Progress Rate (APR) score of 925, resulting in the NCAA’s penalization of three of the program’s scholarships this year.
“Coach [Kowalczyk] met with me,” Humes said. “He said they didn’t really have a choice, but [there’s] nothing really either of us can do about it. I’m happy where I’m at right now. I’m all about UIC, so that’s about it.”
Humes was granted a legislative relief waiver by the NCAA in August, allowing him to play for UIC this season instead of sitting out a year as a transfer. In two academic years at Toledo, Humes accumulated a 3.43 GPA.
“I can tell you this: Hayden’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around,” Kowalczyk said. “He really is. He’s a great person. I truly wish him nothing but success, and I can tell you this: he’s going to be a very successful person.”