Zips zip by Toledo 71-56Written by Mike Bauman | | email@example.com
When Akron came into Savage Arena to take on the Rockets on Wednesday night, it played like a team that was undefeated in the Mid-American Conference.
Featuring four of the MAC’s top 30 scorers—including seven-footer Zeke Marshall—Akron never trailed and led by as many as 17 in a contest which left Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk wondering where his team’s grit was.
“I just didn’t think we had any type of grit,” Kowalczyk said of his team, now 6-10 overall and 2-3 in MAC play. “We talk a lot about not just grit, but I want visible grit. I want to see it, but I want people in the stands to see it, and we just didn’t have guys show that visible grit.”
UT was led in the contest by junior guard Rian Pearson, who finished with team-highs of 16 points and eight rebounds for the Rockets in 24 minutes. Sophomore point guard Julius “Juice” Brown also finished in double figures for Toledo with 11 points.
Despite his team-high numbers in scoring and rebounding, however, Pearson didn’t emerge from UT’s third-straight MAC loss without some criticism from his coach.
When asked in the postgame press conference why Pearson didn’t start the second half, Kowalczyk said: “It’s about being a good teammate.”
In the first half, the Rockets struggled to find some continuity on offense, going 10-33 from the field. Only Pearson, Brown and junior center Richard Wonnell registered field goals for Toledo, who missed eight layups and had zero free-throw attempts in the first 20 minutes.
The Zips (14-4, 5-0 MAC), meanwhile, extended their first half lead to as many as 16 after a three-pointer from Chauncey Gilliam made it 30-14 at the 7:31 mark. Akron outscored Toledo 18-12 in the paint and 16-2 on second chance attempts in the contest’s first 20 minutes, with several of those buckets coming from Marshall.
Marshall had nine points, four rebounds and seven blocks in the first half. He finished with a game-high 18 points to go with eight rebounds and nine blocks, the last of which tied his own school record.
“He’s a seven-footer, so he can change a lot of shots,” said Pearson, who entered the game as the MAC’s leading scorer. “So when you go to the rim, he’s going to change your shot, and I think that’s what had happened.”
Kowalczyk had a different perspective on Toledo’s first half woes.
“We missed some opportunities to finish around the goal, and I don’t buy that [Marshall] changed the shot,” Kowalczyk said. “I don’t buy that. The ones that he blocked? All right. Fine. Give him credit for it, but changing a shot, I think it was just our mentality that we just didn’t go up strong enough.”
With Pearson on the bench to start the second half, Toledo received an initial boost from junior forward Reese Holliday, who had five Rockets’ points during a run where UT outscored Akron 11-4 to cut the Zips’ lead to 40-32 with 15:48 to go.
Following its timeout, however, Akron responded with a run of its own, one in which it outscored Toledo 15-7 on the strength of five-straight three-pointers to make it 55-39 by the 11:27 mark.
“They’re deeper than Ohio is, and they’re just bigger,” Kowalczyk said of the Zips. “They’re what we want to become. They’ve been to six-straight MAC championships, and that’s what we’re striving for is to be able to compete every year for a championship. Obviously we’re not there, but we’re going to be.”
The closest the Rockets got within the Zips after those five consecutive treys was 11 as Akron cruised to the 71-56 victory. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Toledo, either. On Jan. 26, UT hosts rival Bowling Green (7-11, 2-3 MAC) at 7 p.m. in Savage Arena.
“I think the one thing about this team and the character of this team is we have been resilient over time,” Kowalczyk said. “All last year, we had some ups and downs and finished the season in a really strong way, so we’ll be the same way.
“We just need to obviously stay healthy and stay together, and tonight we just weren’t together. We didn’t have that team grit or that team chemistry. I just wasn’t very happy with that in the first half.”