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UT men looking toward EMU

02/07/2017, 12:12am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Rockets not stuck on their recent slide

After a heartbreaking double-overtime loss Saturday at Bowling Green, the University of Toledo’s schedule, as is often the case in college basketball, offers a quick chance to erase the sting from a deflating loss to its rival.

The Rockets, who have now dropped three consecutive games and four of their past five, will return home to take on Mid-American Conference West Division opponent Eastern Michigan today at Savage Arena.

“We just went four out of five on the road,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “That’s college basketball. We’re a Tuesday-Saturday league. You have to have a short-term memory. You have short preparation, and you have to move on and get ready for the next game.”

Toledo returns home after that stretch that saw the Rockets go 1-4, with the only win coming at Ohio. The three-game skid is tough because those games were lost by a combined total of seven points. However, with an opportunity to host two consecutive games, the outlook of the team has remained positive.

RELATED: Capsule previews of UT, BGSU

“The mood of the team is like it has always been,” Kowalczyk said. “We’re upbeat and the guys have been positive and we are looking forward to playing [Eastern Michigan]. They’re not hanging their heads. We lost three very close games and had opportunities to win. I’d like to think that we learned some lessons.”

UT senior guard Jordan Lauf said it is up to him and his fellow seniors to keep the team together and focused on what is ahead rather than thinking about the past.

“We’ve been trying to do that and have a next-game, next-play mentality,” Lauf said. “The next game on the schedule is always the most importan. Us seniors and everybody on the coaching staff, we look forward to [the Eastern Michigan game].”

Eastern Michigan, coached by former Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy, is known for its 2-3 zone, similar to the one Jim Boeheim has made famous with the Orange.

The Eagles are fourth in the MAC in scoring defense at 71.6 points per game, are tied for first in the conference in field-goal percentage allowed at 40.9 percent, and have racked up a league-high 10.4 steals per game.

“It’s a great zone,” Kowalczyk said. “We have to move the ball, and we have to make sure that we take great shots. Obviously against them live ball turnovers are dangerous. You have to make shots.”

On offense, Eastern Michigan is led by Willie Mangum IV and James Thompson IV, who average 15.8 and 14.5 points, respectively. On defense, Tim Bond leads the MAC in steals at 2.2 per game.

Eastern Michigan is tied for third in the MAC West at 5-5 with Central Michigan. The Eagles will be hungry for a win as they have lost consecutive games to Kent State at home and Northern Illinois on the road. Despite that, they are just one game out of first place, a spot currently held by Northern Illinois and Ball State at 6-4.

Toledo, which lost 74-72 to Northern Illinois at home, lost 81-80 at Ball State, and 104-100 at Bowling Green, is in fifth at 4-6. Despite the recent tough stretch, the Rockets still sit just two games behind the MAC West leaders.

“We’re two games out of first,” Kowalczyk said. “That’s the way I look at it. There is time and opportunity to catch those teams. We play those teams at home. There is plenty of basketball left.”

TAYLOR HONORED: UT senior forward Steve Taylor, Jr., was named MAC West Player of the Week on Monday. It marks the second time this season Taylor has been honored.

Taylor posted a pair of double-doubles last week and averaged a team-high 24.0 points, 15.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per game. He opened the week with a 23-point, 18-rebound outing at Ball State on Tuesday and followed with a 25-point, 13-rebound effort at Bowling Green.

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

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Toledo’s Jordan Lauf, left, said as one of the seniors, he must help keep his teammates focused on what’s ahead. BLADE PHOTO

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