Toledo's Jordan Lauf, right, blocks a shot by Buffalo's Blake Hamilton during the first half. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
The University of Toledo men’s basketball team opened Mid-American Conference play in style by cruising to an 86-54 win over Buffalo on Tuesday at Savage Arena.
The Rockets found their shooting touch early, hitting 61.3 percent from the field in the first half, and never looked back on the way to their eighth win of the season and their season-high fourth win in a row.
IN PICTURES: UT men 86, Buffalo 54
“I thought it was a great start to our MAC season,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We played for the most part, a complete, 40-minute game. It was a tremendous first half. I thought we defensive rebounded at a high level, we guarded some of their better players well and offensively that was the best we have played in a long time. We really executed.”
Senior Jonathan Williams led Toledo (8-6, 1-0 MAC) with 26 points, his seventh consecutive game of 20-plus points. Sophomore Jaelan Sanford added 22 points and redshirt freshman Luke Knapke added 13. Steve Taylor, Jr., had nine points, 15 rebounds, and a career-high seven assists.
“I thought our cutting and screening was really good,” Kowalczyk said. ”They are a physical defensive team, and if you cut hard against them you can get fouled. I thought we did a really good job of cutting hard and screening well. Our spacing was good tonight, and when you have Jon Jon and Jaelan making some shots in the first half it opens things up. I thought Steve did a really good job of facilitating. He had seven assists and five at halftime.”
The Rockets led by as many as 22 points in the first half and took a 46-25 lead into halftime.
After a hot-shooting first half, Toledo took control of the game in the first few minutes of the second with a decisive 8-0 run out of the locker room.
“In the second half, we came out and by the first media timeout they didn’t score,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought that really was the story of the game, our maturity to come out at halftime when we were up 21 and then 21 went to 30 and stayed at 30.”
Toledo, which at times has struggled with turnovers this season, had 23 assists as a team and turned the ball over just 11 times.
“If we keep moving the ball like this and playing as well as we did today, I don’t think anybody can beat us,” Sanford said. “I felt confident with our offense today and our defense. We got it done at both ends.”
The Rockets dominated on the glass as well, outrebounding Buffalo 49-33. The UT defense held the Bulls to just 31.3 percent shooting from the field, limiting Blake Hamilton, Buffalo’s leading scorer, to just nine points.
“We stuck to our scouting report on him,” Sanford said of Hamilton. ”We had gap-help on him and everybody just bought into our defense and helped out for us.”
Quate McKinzie led the Bulls (6-8, 0-1) with 12 points and David Kadiri had 10.
“I think we played well from start to finish offensively and defensively,” Williams said. “We had it going in the first half. Our offensive execution was tremendous, and the coaches were working with us before the game and it just felt good from the start.”
Toledo navigated through a difficult nonconference schedule and came into conference play battle-tested.
“I think we have [developed a rhythm] over the last few weeks,” Kowalczyk said. “I know we played a very difficult schedule and I think our guys understand that this season is a journey. It’s about us continuing to get better and I think we have gotten better. I’ve been happy with our defense overall. Our biggest problem has been live ball turnovers and we’ve been trying to clean that up and I think we did. We had turnovers. We only had 11 which is our goal, but they weren’t live ball turnovers that led to transition.”
Toledo was ready for Buffalo and earned its most lopsided victory ever in a conference opener.
“Our tough schedule prepared us for a tough conference,” Williams said. “The MAC is going to be tough this year and Buffalo is a good team. We just came prepared today.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.
Toledo's Steve Taylor, Jr., shoots over Buffalo's Ikenna Smart during the first half of Tuesday’s Mid-American Conference game at Savage Arena. Taylor had nine points, 15 rebounds and a career-best seven assists in the Rockets’ win. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH