In their return from Alaska, the University of Toledo men's basketball team trailed for all of 12 seconds Wednesday night in a 76-65 victory over Cleveland State.
The Rockets led by double digits for the entire second half, yet UT coach Tod Kowalczyk kept his team in the locker room for 15 minutes after the game while talking about mistakes. Kowalczyk made plain that Toledo might have won the game, but what he saw was not good enough.
The Rockets led by 20 near the halfway mark of the second half and carelessly let Cleveland State back into the game, though UT did enough in the final minutes to keep their lead intact.
“Sometimes the best teaching moments are after a win. I don't think we played well tonight,” Kowalczyk said. “I'm not happy with how we played. I'm not happy [with] our composure. I just expect more out of this team.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Cleveland State vs. Toledo men’s basketball
Toledo (5-2) compiled efficient offensive numbers once again. The Rockets assisted on 19 of their 22 field goals, shot nearly 48 percent from the floor, and went to the free-throw line a season-high 36 times, making 26.
Nathan Boothe scored 17 points and led the Rockets with eight rebounds. Jonathan Williams also scored 17 for UT.
What irritated Kowalczyk was a lack of poise from a Rockets team that has only one senior. He said his team handled success poorly.
Cleveland State (2-5) called timeout down 20 with 11:40 remaining in the game. During the next four minutes, the Vikings shaved nine points off the lead. They brought the deficit to as close as 10 with a little more than four minutes to play.
“We relaxed. We thought it was showtime. We don't play showtime basketball,” Kowalczyk said. “That's why we had 13 turnovers. We should never have that many.
“I thought we were casual. I thought our perimeter play was casual all night.”
Vinny Zollo made a layup for Cleveland State to take a 4-3 lead fewer than two minutes into the game, but Nate Navigato made a layup on the other end to begin an 8-0 run that gave UT a lead it kept for the rest of the night.
The Rockets turned over the ball an uncharacteristic nine times in the first half, yet led 36-23 at halftime. UT helped its cause by making the most of its other possessions.
Toledo shot 14-for-27 in the half, assisted on 13 of its 14 field goals, and grabbed eight more rebounds than Cleveland State.
“We were moving it,” Boothe said. “When we didn't have those live-ball turnovers or simple turnovers, we were pretty efficient offensively.”
The Rockets took control of the game immediately in the second half. Boothe and Williams started the half with back-to-back makes to give UT a 17-point lead. The Vikings brought UT's lead down to 11 three times before Toledo created a run it later needed.
Jordan Lauf made a 3-pointer, and the Rockets followed with six made free throws — all while keeping Cleveland State quiet on the other end — for a 9-0 run that gave UT its 20-point edge.
Toledo used its mix of zone defenses to try to protect the lead, though it had nowhere near the effort Kowalczyk wanted.
“Sometimes when you play zone, guys get casual,” Kowalczyk said. “They think it's time to relax and rest, and that's not the case. I thought our stances off the ball were pretty poor tonight.”
Wednesday was Toledo's first game since the Great Alaska Shootout, where UT took second place. Kowalczyk was asked about fatigue possibly carrying over from the long trip.
He wasn't buying that as a reason for the way in which Toledo played against Cleveland State.
“In our program, we call those excuses,” Kowalczyk said, “And we don't make them.”
Toledo’s Jonathan Williams, who had 17 points, drives against Cleveland State’s Andre Yates in Wednsday night’s game in Savage Arena. It was the first game home for the Rockets after a recent trip to Alaska. UT improved to 5-2. BLADE/SHELBY KARDELL