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Toledo men can’t find rhythm as road woes continue

01/22/2017, 12:31am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

KENT, Ohio — The road once again was unkind to the University of Toledo men’s basketball team as the Rockets fell 85-61 to Kent State on Saturday at the M.A.C. Center.

Toledo struggled to find an offensive rhythm for much of the game and did not offer much resistance on the defensive end. In doing so, the Rockets lost for the third time in their last four games and saw Kent State snap a four-game losing streak.

Since winning at Wright State on Nov. 19, Toledo (10-9, 3-4 Mid-American Conference) has lost its last five true road games, including three straight in the conference.

“We have to play better on the road,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We’ve been very good at home. Last year, we played better on the road than we did at home and now this team has to find a way to be tougher.”

In the first half, Toledo shot a season-low 29.2 percent from the field, including a 1-of-9 mark from 3-point range, and in the second half, the Rockets allowed Kent State to shoot a blistering 67.9 percent from the field.

“That was the worst offensive performance we had in the first half,” Kowalczyk said. “And in the second half, we didn’t guard inside at all. Jimmy Hall had his way with our our post players. He’s a very good player and obviously this game meant an awful lot to them, and their urgency showed it and their crowd showed it.”

Steve Taylor, Jr., led the Rockets with 16 points and nine rebounds. Jonathan Williams battled foul trouble for most of the game, but still scored 15 points, while Nate Navigato added 10 points.

“His first foul I thought was an unbelievably bad call and it kind of affected him,” Kowalczyk said of Williams' foul trouble. “Then all of the sudden he gets his second one right away and he has to come out. And then he gets his third at the end of the half with a charge. It was a tough night for him because of foul trouble. He could never really get it going.”

Hall tallied 27 points to lead Kent State (10-9, 2-4 MAC), while Deon Edwin added 23 points.

“He’s a good player and he played well,” Taylor said of Hall. “He got deep touches, which we tried not to allow. But he got them anyway.”

After a back-and-forth beginning to the game that saw three ties and six lead changes, Kent State established a cushion near the end of the half. Toledo last led the game at 14-13 with 11:01 left in the first half.

Kent State responded with a 14-3 run and led 27-17 with 6:08 left in the half. In the process, Toledo went through a five-minute stretch without scoring. And after Adonis De La Rosa beat the halftime buzzer with a jumper, the Golden Flashes had built a 38-24 lead.

“I thought the story of the game was that in the middle of the first half we just couldn't score,” Kowalczyk said. “It just sucked the life out of us. We started the game with energy, we moved the ball, we guarded. But we were stuck at 17 forever. I don't know the exact amount of time, but we just couldn't score. We stopped moving and we got into the shot clock every time. We didn’t have good spacing during that stretch and I thought our shot selection was poor and we were stuck on 17 it felt like the whole night.”

Any doubt that remained after halftime was quickly erased when Kent State opened the second half on a 13-6 run and stretched the lead to 21 points.

“The second half, I thought we felt sorry for ourselves and stopped defending,” Kowalczyk said. “We gave up 38 points in the first half, which is not a bad number for us.”

Toledo will attempt to snap out of its road funk with a quick turnaround for a trip to Ohio on Tuesday night.

“We haven’t played well on the road, so we have to get back in the lab and figure it out,” Taylor said. “We go right back on the road on Tuesday against Ohio, so we have to figure it out and fast.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

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