After keeping it close against perennial Mid-American Conference contender Kent State, the Rockets couldn’t keep pace in the second half, falling 77-61 at Savage Arena.
“I’m very disappointed in our second half,” Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I thought in the first half we competed, we didn’t play great but we did a lot of good things. In the second half our turnovers just killed us.”
Toledo (10-11, 2-5 MAC) trailed by just four points at halftime but the Golden Flashes (14-6, 4-3) opened the half with an 11-2 run. The spurt included four breakaway layups following UT turnovers, including three on consecutive possessions. The Rockets recorded 12 of their 19 turnovers in the second half.
“That was the turning point,” KSU head coach Rob Senderoff said. “They have a really young team and our kids have been through this league before. A lot of these guys for Toledo I think they will be really good in time, if not by the end of this year, but our kids amped up the intensity level and tonight that was the difference. Getting those steals and points off turnovers was a huge difference in the game.”
“They tried to speed us up,” sophomore guard Rian Pearson said. “I thought we were being a little bit too casual. We weren’t coming to the ball. They like to shoot the gaps and that’s what they were doing.”
Pearson led the charge for the Rockets, scoring 22 points on 10-of-19 shooting with seven rebounds. Junior forward Matt Smith (5 of 7) scored 13 with seven rebounds while classmate Curtis Dennis (5 of 12) recorded 13 points and five assists off the bench.
Freshman point guard Juice Brown and junior guard Dominique Buckley, however, each had a game to forget. The duo, which averages over 22 points per game, combined to miss all 16 of its shot attempts and committed 12 turnovers. Buckley (0 for 7) had a season-low two points with two rebounds and four turnovers while Brown (0 for 9) went scoreless for the first time in his career with five assists, four rebounds and eight turnovers.
“When our starting guards go 0 for 16 with 12 turnovers, we are not winning.” Kowalczyk said. “Juice had some really good shots but he is just struggling with his confidence right now. I told him at halftime he didn’t have one bad shot. He’s a good player just struggling with his confidence. In his case I thought he competed. Dominique Buckley had his worst game as a Rocket all the way around.”
The Rockets started strong with six straight points but Kent State scored 10 unanswered in the midst of a 20-5 run to take a 20-11 lead. Toledo fought back, and a Dennis alley-oop to Pearson tied it at 24 with 4:30 left but the Golden Flashes took the lead into the half at 35-31.
The 11-2 second-half run by Kent State extended the lead to 13 as the Rockets would get no closer than 10 for the remainder of the game. KSU led by as many as 20, cruising to a 77-61 victory.
The Rockets’ schedule gets no easier as they travel to Akron to take on the MAC East Division leading Zips (13-7, 5-1) at 7 p.m. Feb. 1.