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Rockets hope to wipe out last year’s finish

11/12/2016, 12:30am EST

Toledo starts its season today at St. Joseph’s

A poor stretch to close last season left the University of Toledo men's basketball team wanting more this offseason and heading into the 2016-17 campaign.

The Rockets hope this year's team, which features four talented seniors, can learn from the way the team finished last year and compete for a Mid-American Conference title.

Toledo ended up losing six of its last seven games.

“A lot of things came into play,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We didn’t make plays, We didn’t get stops.

“We didn’t get breaks, we didn’t get right calls. There were a lot of different things that came into play in those close games. You have to create those breaks. We have in the past and last year we did not. And that leaves a sour taste in our mouth.”

RELATED: UT roster | 2016-17 schedule

Toledo will count on the leadership of four seniors — Jonathan Williams, Jordan Lauf, Zach Garber and Marquette transfer Steve Taylor — at the season begins at St. Joseph’s at 7 tonight.

Williams is the team’s leading returning scorer at 17.6 points per game last season and was selected to the preseason All-MAC West Division team.

Lauf averaged 4.6 points per game last year and is one of the team’s best defenders.

Garber averaged 6.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 18.3 minutes per game. Taylor sat out last season after averaging 5.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game his last season at Marquette.

“We’re the four captains of the team and we have to lead the team by example,” Garber said.

“We have to make sure that we are doing the right things so that the other players are following. We have to make sure we come out and bring it every day.”

Kowalczyk said he expects big gains from his sophomore class of Jaelan Sanford, Nate Navigato and Taylor Adway as well as redshirt freshman Luke Knapke. Also expected to contribute are junior guards Lucas Antunez and Daniel Dzierzawski, both junior college transfers.

“We have four seniors which we haven’t had here in a while,” Kowalczyk said. “It’s four good seniors and guys that will all play. Our junior class is two junior college guards that are both good players.

“Our sophomore class, I’m really excited about them taking the next step.”

After a long month of practices, Toledo still is trying to find the right lineup combinations on a team that could go 11 players deep.

“We can play a lot of guys and a lot of different lineups,” Lauf said. “Right now, we have to find the right chemistry and the right attitude.”

Kowalczyk expects his team to grow as the season progresses, and the role of certain players will become more defined.

“I think it’s a team where we are still trying to find our way,” Kowalczyk said.

“There are 11 guys that are competing for playing time and their roles really haven’t been defined.

“We’re waiting to see who plays well together. Some people need to step up and claim some positions and playing time. It’s a deep team, it’s an athletic team and it’s an exciting team.”

The Rockets were picked to finish in fourth place in the division in the conference’s preseason poll. Garber said in the MAC, you can expect the unexpected.

“It’s so unpredictable,” Garber said. “One any night, a bottom-tier team can beat one of the top-tier teams. It’s just that type of league.”

But Toledo players and the coaching staff know in order to compete for a MAC title, they have to finish games and avoid stretches like the one to close out last season.

“It kind of left a sour taste in our mouth the way we finished some games last year,” Lauf said.

“So that was our focus throughout every day in practice. We have to make plays in winning time down the stretch and we know what we have to do.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: or 419-724-6110.

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Toledo basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk hopes to count on the leadership of four seniors as the season begins today at St. Joseph’s. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

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