Rockets keep rolling with 60-50 victory over EvansvilleWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the Rockets entered Savage Arena on Thursday night to take on Evansville in the inaugural Toledo Invite, they did so with an 8-1 record, which included back-to-back wins over Milwaukee and Marquette. In its matchup with the Purple Aces, Toledo showed why it’s off to its best start in 16 years with a 60-50 victory.
In the first half, UT’s defense took several charges and forced 12 Evansville turnovers, limiting the Purple Aces to one field goal in the first nine-plus minutes of the contest as it jumped out to a 17-4 lead.
“We took six charges by the half, and I’d say that’s probably the best half as far as charges we’ve done all year,” Rockets’ head coach Tricia Cullop said. “I was extremely proud of that because I think that’s an unselfish act that really goes a long way to take the momentum away from a team.
“There’s nothing worse than when you think you’ve got to drive to the hole and somebody steps in front of you and takes a charge. I’m really proud that we have more than one person doing that now.”
That defense led to offense as eight different Toledo players scored in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Rockets (9-1, 0-0 Mid-American Conference) were led in the contest by senior guard Naama Shafir, who notched her fourth career double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.
“I tried to find my open teammates, and they were able to make shots,” Shafir said.
Sophomore guard/forward Inma Zanoguera also finished with 12 points. Evansville was led by Samantha Heck’s game-high 16 points, while her teammate Mallory Ladd chipped in 11 points.
“She’s a player that I watched as she was younger growing up,” Cullop said of Ladd, a player she had seen when she was the head coach at Evansville, her prior stop to Toledo. “She grew up a couple blocks from the University of Evansville. She’s got a great future ahead of her.”
In the first half, Toledo jumped out to an early 9-0 lead over the Purple Aces after a three-pointer from junior guard Andola Dortch with 17:18 on the clock. Though Evansville’s Khristian Hart countered with a bucket on the Purple Aces’ ensuing possession, it would be more than six minutes until her team got another field goal as Toledo jumped out to a 17-6 lead by the 10:53 mark of the first half.
The Rockets outscored Evansville 20-10 from that point to lead 37-16 at the break. Toledo also outscored the Purple Aces (2-8, 0-0 Missouri Valley Conference) 14-4 in the paint and notched 10 points off Evansville’s 12 turnovers. The Purple Aces, meanwhile, shot just 17.4 percent from the field.
“I thought our intensity defensively the first half was very good, limiting them to one shot and getting out and running,” Cullop said. “It was also—and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this—but Naama having a double-double tonight, a very quiet double-double. I thought she really did a nice job of feeding her teammates.”
After the Purple Aces went on a 10-4 run in the second half to make it 56-38 with 5:26 remaining, Shafir was subbed back in and scored four-straight for Toledo, giving UT a 60-40 lead at the 4:15 mark. Evansville ended the game on a 10-0 run as the Rockets picked up their ninth victory.
“I mean, we can always do a better job,” Shafir said. “We started pretty good the first half, but we need to a better job in the second half. Last game [against Marquette], we didn’t really show up for the first half but we came back in the second half. We need to do 40 minutes together if we want to continue to win.”
For Cullop, the game was also a little more personal. She spent eight seasons coaching Evansville, which included a 73-48 record in her last four years with the Purple Aces.
“I didn’t even have a grey hair back then,” Cullop said of her time at Evansville, who made her a head coach when she was 29-years-old. “I learned a lot—a lot through mistakes—and they lived with my mistakes, and I was really able to grow as a coach in that program.”
The Rockets will play Prairie View A&M (3-5, 0-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference) on Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. in Savage Arena for the championship game of the Toledo Invite.