Bauman: Second-half woes continue to plague RocketsWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On a night of white collars, the Rockets’ blue-collar effort was not enough to hold off Buffalo down the stretch at Savage Arena as the Bulls came back from a 13-point second-half deficit to steal a 72-65 win from Toledo at Savage Arena on Saturday night.
The entire UT coaching staff and several in attendance donned bowties for the second annual “Tie One On” game, an event to raise awareness and funding for prostate cancer care. For $100, fans got admission to the game, a commemorative photo, a Rockets’ basketball bowtie and an invite to a postgame reception; proceeds for the event will go to UT’s Dana Cancer Center.
On a night of positive festivities, though, the Rockets (10-13, 2-7 Mid-American Conference) left the court with the negative emotions of another defeat.
“Tonight, I feel bad for our guys,” Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “They played their hearts out. We competed. We did all the things we needed to win the game.”
Everything but close the game out, that is. The Rockets had a 46-33 lead with 17:06 remaining, one it relinquished for good with 1:42 left as Buffalo (14-6, 7-2 MAC) dominated the paint in the second half. The Bulls outscored Toledo 24-4 in the paint over the final 20 minutes and held a 38-12 advantage in points in the paint for the contest.
One of the obvious differences in the second half was the presence of Buffalo’s 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Javon McCrea. After playing only six minutes and picking up two fouls and a turnover in the first half, McCrea registered 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes of play in the second half.
The Bulls grabbed 31 rebounds to UT’s 15 in the final 20 minutes and had 16 second-chance points to the Rockets’ three.
“Obviously, some rebounding numbers in the second half really hurt us, but our post defense was tremendous,” Kowalczyk said. “I don’t know what a offensive foul is in the post anymore. Obviously, neither does the three guys that were working the game tonight, either. Disappointed we lost again.”
“I think we’ve just got to work on closing out games better,” said sophomore guard Rian Pearson, who led all scorers with 26 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. “We know how to start the games, but we don’t know how to close them out.”
Pearson’s assessment is more accurate. On Dec. 10, UT was up 33-25 at halftime over Loyola (Ill.) and lost. On Dec. 28, the Rockets held a 36-30 advantage over a tough Cleveland State squad at halftime and lost. In home bouts against Ball State and Kent State last month, Toledo was within at least four in the first half of each of those games and lost.
Did the officials in Saturday night’s matchup against Buffalo miss some calls? Yes. Do they deserve even partial blame for UT’s defeat? Highly questionable when you’re talking about a team that has either had the lead in the first 20 minutes or been within at least four points of its opponent at halftime in four of its home losses since December and had a 13-point second half lead over the Bulls on Saturday.
“We can’t fault anybody’s effort tonight,” Kowalczyk said. “We got out-physicaled is what it was; bottom line. We got out-physicaled; bottom line. It had nothing to do with our second-half execution. It had nothing to do with our second half [in] how hard we played. [We had] 10 turnovers for the game. Juice has nine assists. I mean, we played well.”
Kowalczyk is right in that regard. Toledo played hard from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
But it’s a fact that UT has struggled in the second half this season. Maybe it’s fatigue with a roster that features just eight scholarship players. Maybe it’s the Rockets’ lack of girth in the post, a weakness Kowalczyk himself pointed out prior to the 2011-12 campaign starting. Any of those areas would have been legitimate excuses for him to attribute to Toledo’s second-half woes.
Perhaps it was out of anger and frustration for a blue-collar coach from Wisconsin to watch his team play with a blue-collar effort for 40 minutes and lose that Kowalczyk said what he said. Unfortunately, his comments did not address the Rockets’ greater issues as a team in the second half and will likely result in reprimand from the MAC.