AKRON — The University of Toledo men’s basketball team had its sights set on ending Akron’s home winning streak on Tuesday.
But the Rockets let an 11-point second-half lead go to waste in a 71-65 loss to the Zips, becoming the 30th straight team to fall at James A. Rhodes Arena.
“I look at this as a lost opportunity,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said.
“I thought we had some chances to beat a really good team on the road,” Kowalczyk said. “They had one big run in the second half and I don’t think we responded too well to it. I thought our body language at that point of time was not very good.”
Akron owns the nation’s second-longest home winning streak behind Oregon’s mark of 40. The Zips last lost at home on Feb. 21, 2015 to Miami (Ohio).
With slightly more than 10 minutes to play on Tuesday, it looked like the streak was in major jeopardy. Toledo’s Nate Navigato drained a 3-pointer to give the Rockets a 49-38 lead and all the momentum on the road.
However, Akron, helped by key minutes from its bench, took back control of the game and responded with a 26-6 run over the next seven minutes and led 64-55 after an Isaiah Johnson 3-point play with 2:49 left.
“When we went down 11, I thought that was a real test for our guys,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “I really think the rest that we gave our main guys at that point won the game for us. I’m pleased with their resiliency. They didn’t have a great look at halftime and they let some stuff bother them, but they never quit.”
Toledo cut the lead back to four points after Jordan Lauf made a layup to make the score 67-63 with 1:03 left. Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one on the next Akron possession.
But UT’s Jonathan Williams was unable to finish a layup at the other end and two free throws by Kwan Cheatham, Jr., stretched the lead back to six with 30 seconds left and Toledo did not get any closer.
Steve Taylor, Jr., and Navigato led Toledo (13-13, 6-7 MAC) with 13 points each, and Taylor added 13 rebounds. Williams tallied 12 for the Rockets and Lauf scored 11.
Cheatham paced Akron (22-4, 12-1 MAC) with 21 points, Johnson scored 18, and Antino Jackson had 13. The duo of Cheatham and Johnson combined for 28 second-half points and were key in Akron’s comeback.
“We kind of got away from what was working and what separated us and they capitalized on it,” Taylor said of UT’s second-half struggles. “We were moving the ball and working through me and letting me make decisions with the ball [in the first half]. It was hard for them to guard me one-on-one. That’s what kind of got us up in the first and second half. But we got away from that.”
Taylor scored 10 of his 13 points in the first half as Toledo led 37-33 at halftime, dominating the matchup with Johnson, who scored only five first-half points on 2-of-5 shooting.
“For 30 minutes,” Kowalczyk said about Taylor winning the head-to-head matchup with Johnson. “Then it flip-flopped the last 10 minutes big time. I think Steve got tired. I thought our weak side help wasn’t what it needed to be. I thought our ball pressure wasn’t what it needed to be. He’s a load and he’s going to be player of the year in our league for a reason.”
Toledo, which came into the game tied for first place in the MAC West, missed a big opportunity to win a tough game in a hostile environment.
“It was a cool environment, but we should have won that game,” Taylor said. “Credit to them, they are a good team.”
OHIO 79, EASTERN MICHIGAN 71
YPSILANTI, Mich. — Jordan Dartis scored a career-high 26 points and made all 12 of his free throws, Jason Carter had 11 points and 14 rebounds and Ohio held off a late Eastern Michigan rally.
Willie Mangum IV led Eastern Michigan (13-13, 5-8) with 19 points.
Contact Brian Buckey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.
Toledo’s Nate Navigato, left, loses control of the ball under pressure from Akron’s Josh Williams in the second half Tuesday at James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron. Navigato had 13 points for the Rockets. AKRON BEACON JOURNAL