RedHawks were a maturity test for young RocketsWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After losing three-straight games and five of their last six, having four players reach double figures in scoring and handily defeating Indiana University Northwest of the NAIA 107-43 appeared to be just the type of contest the young Rockets needed before heading into Mid-American Conference play.
While the matchup was one Toledo expected to win, it was how it won that left UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk pleased after the immaturity his inexperienced team displayed at times during non-conference contests.
“When I say immature, I don’t mean so much that you would notice it,” Kowalczyk said. “Immaturity to me is when he had adversity, guys don’t respond the right way. When somebody turns the ball over, they hang their head. When someone’s not making shots, they stop talking defensively.
“That’s what young and immature teams do, and we’re just trying to find ourselves. We’re trying to grow up together, and we’re trying to get better.”
Sophomore guard Rian Pearson, who recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 19 points and a team-high 13 rebounds to go with a career-best 5 assists against the RedHawks, said that the team lost sight of how to win during the three-game losing streak.
“I think it was lack of [focus],” Pearson said. “Try to stay focused more, and practice, we started letting up in practice. We try to go harder, and now we’re starting to do shootarounds for games and go hard to get a sweat going before games.”
The Rockets’ 107 points marked the first time since Dec. 22, 2003 that Toledo (8-6) registered 100-plus in a game as every UT player who got playing time scored. Sophomore forward DeLino Dear was the only player on the Rockets’ roster who did not get into the contest.
While Kowalczyk did not specify the details regarding Dear’s absence, the issue appeared to deal with immaturity.
“Sending a strong message,” Kowalczyk said on why Dear didn’t play against Indiana-Northwest. “He needs to understand what it means to be a Rocket, and right now he doesn’t understand it.”
Even without Dear in the post, Toledo’s size advantage was apparent from the opening tip against the RedHawks (2-13), whose biggest starter was 6-foot-5. UT finished with more points in the paint than Indiana-Northwest’s point total in the contest, holding a 54-10 advantage in that category.
Sophomore forward Matt Smith finished with a team-best and career-high 21 points to go with 6 rebounds, while walk-on sophomore center and Genoa graduate Richard Wonnell registered 8 points and 10 rebounds in the absence of Dear, both career-bests. Wonnell’s fellow reserves in sophomore forward James Ewing and freshmen guards AJ Mathew and Zack Riddle all played at least 10 minutes.
“First of all, I thought we showed maturity,” Kowalczyk said. “We never played down to the competition, and the third thing that I really liked is we got AJ Mathew some quality minutes and Richard Wonnell [as well]. Two guys that are going to have to—at some point this season—are going to be factors; at some point.
“I don’t know when, but those two guys are going to be factors for us, so it was good to get those two guys some minutes and some confidence.”
Though the victory wasn’t over a Division I school, the Rockets showed poise offensively by hitting 54.9 percent of their shots in the game while limiting the RedHawks to just 24.5 percent shooting—including 13 percent in the second half—on the defensive end. Nearly half of Toledo’s points (54-of-107) came in the paint as UT attacked Indiana-Northwest’s lack of interior size instead of settling for the outside shot.
And while dismantling a two-win RedHawks’ squad at Savage Arena is much different than the task the Rockets will have on Jan. 7 when they open up MAC play on the road at Central Michigan (5-8), Kowalczyk saw not just a lopsided victory, but more importantly maturity from an inexperienced team which has struggled with that attribute this season.
“We’ve lost some close games,” Kowalczyk said. “We’re close. We’re really close, but it’s an immature team. It’s a team that doesn’t handle adversity well, which most young teams don’t. And we’re just trying to grow up together, and I thought tonight we took a step in the right direction.”