MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — The University of Toledo men's basketball team fell in a big hole early and was not able to recover in a 96-88 loss Friday to Central Michigan at McGuirk Arena.
By the time the Central Michigan fans, who stand until the opposing team scores, sat back down in their seats, the Chippewas held an 11-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
“We had some really good looks during that 11-0 run,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “[Jonathan Williams] missed a wide-open 3, Jaelan [Sanford] missed a wide-open 3. They hit a couple tough shots, got on a little bit of a run and got some confidence. I thought we lost our swagger a little bit when they did hit a couple of those 3s and we missed a couple of ours.”
Three different Central Michigan players hit a 3-pointer during the early run that stunned the Rockets.
“We just got off to bad start,” UT senior forward Steve Taylor, Jr., said. “They came out more hungry than us and they went up 11-0 coming out.”
Williams scored a career-high 30 points to lead Toledo (9-8, 2-2 Mid-American Conference). Taylor recorded his 13th double-double of the season with 20 points and 16 rebounds, Sanford added 18 points, and Jordan Lauf had 13.
Toledo responded to the early Central Michigan surge and cut the lead to one point at 17-16 with 12:23 left in the first half after a Sanford basket. But the Chippewas were able to stretch the lead back out to 10 and led 45-35 at halftime.
In the second half, Central Michigan stretched its lead to as many as 13 points early on, but Toledo was able to cut the deficit to two points at 58-56 with 11:21 left after a Williams layup. The Chippewas responded with six quick points and went ahead 64-58 less than a minute later.
“When we got it down to two, we were just thinking one more stop,” Taylor said. “Get another stop. But we just came up short and didn’t get a stop and they were able to break it away a little bit.”
After a Braylon Rayson layup with 1:09 left in the game, Central Michigan took a 90-76 lead. Toledo would not go away and trimmed the lead to 90-85 with 43 seconds left after a quick 9-0 run, keyed by seven points from Williams and two offensive fouls on Rayson.
“They aren’t going to quit,” Kowalczyk said of his players. “The heart was there tonight.”
Central Michigan answered by hitting its foul shots and padded the lead back to 96-85 with 15 seconds left.
Rayson led the Chippewas (11-6, 3-1) with 28 points. Marcus Keene, the nation’s leading scorer, added 20, David DiLeo scored 17, and Luke Meyer had 11.
“Our game plan was to make it tough for those two guards and I thought we did,,” Kowalczyk said. “We forced Braylon Rayson into nine turnovers and Keene, the leading scorer in the country, had 20 but he was 1-of-8 from [3-point range]. We made it hard on them, but obviously not hard enough.”
The loss was Toledo’s second in a row after the Rockets fell Tuesday at Western Michigan.
“I’m disappointed with the week we had, but the two games were completely different,” Kowalczyk said. “Against Western Michigan, I thought we played with some attitude and we didn’t play hard enough.
“Tonight, I thought our togetherness was there and I thought we competed. We just didn’t make a couple shots early in the first half that hurt us and I thought there were a couple loose balls that we should have gotten.”
The Rockets return home to face rival Bowling Green on Tuesday at Savage Arena. The team hopes to learn from a tough week on the road.
“It’s always bad to lose, but we can't separate now,” Taylor said. “It’s time to get tighter and don’t let anything get in between us, because we have a good group of guys. This isn’t the time to separate.”
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