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Opportunity missed for Rockets

02/22/2017, 12:51am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

UT gives up 15-point lead in 2nd half, loses in OT


Toledo’s Steve Taylor, Jr., scores from close range against Western Michigan’s Seth Dugan during the second half Tuesday night at Savage Arena. Taylor scored 17 points and pulled down a career-high 23 rebounds. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

The University of Toledo men’s basketball team once again saw a big second-half lead disappear and let a golden opportunity to begin a crucial three-game homestand with a win slowly slip away.

In Toledo’s school-record eighth overtime game of the season, Western Michigan’s Bryce Moore came up with a key 3-pointer with 26 seconds left and the Broncos held on for a 61-56 win.

IN PICTURES: Western Michigan beats UT

The Rockets entered Tuesday night tied with Western Michigan for second place in the Mid-American Conference West with home matchups with MAC West foes Central Michigan and Ball State looming.

Toledo raced out to another large second-half lead as they have the past two games against Akron and Northern Illinois. This time the Rockets led by 15 with 14:57 left in the game, but were unable to salvage the game in overtime as they did on Saturday at Northern Illinois.

“Obviously it’s an extremely disappointing game,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “In the second half during a key stretch we stopped moving the ball and were very stagnant. We had some guys lose their composure and we have some guys that just didn’t deal with it well. I’m disappointed in how we finished and we have some guys that need to be more mature and take responsibility.”

Steve Taylor, Jr., scored 17 points and grabbed a career-high 23 rebounds, but missed a jumper at the buzzer at the end of regulation. Jonathan Williams added 12 points and Jaelan Sanford had 11 for the Rockets ( 14-14, 7-8 MAC).

Thomas Wilder poured in 30 points to lead Western Michigan (12-15, 8-7 MAC), while Drake LaMont scored 10.

During a key stretch of the second half, Wilder scored seven straight points, capped by a steal and layup that cut Toledo’s lead to 44-41 with 9:02 left. Toledo led 49-47 with 3:10 left, but failed to score for the rest of regulation after Wilder made two free throws.

With the score still 49-47 and 1:53 left, Sanford missed two free throws, but Jordan Lauf tipped the rebound on the second miss out to a teammate for an extra possession. Then after it appeared that WMU had a steal, Lauf raced into the backcourt and dove for a loose ball and called a timeout with one second on the shot clock.

After a timeout, Lauf’s inbounds pass was stolen by Western Michigan and Wilder missed a contested layup.

On Toledo’s next possession, Taylor missed two straight shots near the rim and after Western Michigan’s Tucker Haymond grabbed a loose ball, Williams was called for an intentional foul.

Haymond calmly made both free throws to tie the score at 49-49 with 52 seconds left.

Western Michigan retained possession because of the intentional foul and Moore missed a 3-pointer, which gave Toledo the ball with 33 seconds left. After Sanford was stripped on a drive to the basket, Toledo had ball underneath the basket with 3.8 seconds left. Taylor, who said he was the safety option on the play, was forced to shoot a contested shot at the buzzer and missed.

In overtime, Western Michigan led 56-53 with 1:02 left after a Wilder jump shot. Nate Navigato then tied the game at 56 with a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left. That is when Moore responded with the game-clinching 3-pointer with 29 seconds left. Lauf missed an open look at a 3-pointer on the next UT possession and WMU closed the game with two free throws by Haymond.

“It’s very disappointing,” Taylor said. “Because we had a 15-point lead and we blew it. We just have to get back in the lab and not get too down, because we still have a chance to do some good things. I don’t think anybody thought about it from the previous games, but we have to figure out a way to step on the gas when we have them down and come out and play the second half like we played the first half.”

Toledo shot a season-low 33.9 percent from the field, while their defensive effort kept them in the game. The Rockets who will have to rebound quickly with three games remaining in the season, including two at home.

“Our guys know what is ahead of us,” Kowalcyzk said. “They knew we had a three straight home games and we’ve been playing really well. Tonight we didn’t play well. I thought we guarded and played well defensively for most of the game, but offensively that was as bad as we’ve played all year.”

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

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Toledo’s Jonathan Williams gets creative in finding a way to get a shot off despite the defense of WMU’s Drake Lamont. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

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