After three consecutive second-half collapses, the University of Toledo men’s basketball team turned in a complete 40-minute performance Friday and led wire-to-wire in defeating Central Michigan 87-66 at Savage Arena.
After losing double-digit second-half leads against Akron, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan, Toledo raced out to a 12-2 lead against the Chippewas and led 40-20 at halftime.
“Obviously, a really good win for our program,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I thought from start to finish we played exceptionally well at both ends of the floor. I thought our defense was really good to start the game and kind of got into them a little bit. Offensively, we moved the ball.”
With another big second-half lead to try to protect, the Rockets never let Central Michigan back within single digits in a runaway win that snapped a six-game losing skid against Chippewas.
“It was big for us to go in at halftime like that,” UT senior guard Jordan Lauf said. “But we knew they were a dangerous team and that they would come right back at us, and that’s what they did. Tonight, we put together a full 40 minutes.”
The Rockets (15-14, 8-8 MAC) were led by 22 points from Jonathan Williams, while Lauf had a career-high 16 points and 14 rebounds. Steve Taylor, Jr., recorded another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Jaelan Sanford added 13 points, and Luke Knapke had 12.
Marcus Keene, the nation’s leading scorer, failed to score in the first half, when he picked up three personal fouls and played just nine minutes. Without its star, Central Michigan (16-13, 6-10 MAC) failed to do much offensively in the first half.
“The guys bought into what we were trying to do game plan-wise,” Kowalczyk said. “They are going to take a lot of tough shots and a lot quick shots and contested shots. In the second half, they made some. We couldn’t have done any better defensively. In fact, our goal was to frustrate them a little bit and we certainly did that with Keene having zero points in the first half.”
In the second half, Keene picked up the pace and finished with 27 points on 11-of-22 shooting, but he also had nine turnovers. Lauf harassed Keene most of the game defensively and when the Central Michigan star finally fouled out late in the game, he picked up a technical foul to end a frustrating night.
“He’s a phenomenal player and a great scorer,” Lauf said. “He got in some foul trouble in the first, and we knew he was going to come out in the second half and try to get his.”
Cecil Williams added 13 points for the Chippewas (16-13, 6-10 MAC), while Braylon Rayson added 11, well below his 20-point-per-game average.
Central Michigan cut the lead to 12 points three times in the second half, the last time coming when a Blake Hibbitts foul shot with 4:07 left made the score 70-58.
Williams and Sanford responded with back-to-back layups to extend the lead to 74-58 with 2:41 left. The Rockets then made free throws down the stretch, and Knapke capped off the night with his second 3-pointer of the game with 16 seconds remaining.
Toledo outrebounded Central Michigan 43-29 and assisted on 23 of its 34 field goals. The Chippewas, the top scoring team in the MAC, labored offensively, and had 15 turnovers to only nine assists.
“It was just great team basketball,” Lauf said. “We moved the ball well and my teammates found me on offense. Then I was just going to get the ball offensively and defensively. It was a great team win.”
Toledo will close out the season with a home game Tuesday against Ball State and a trip to Eastern Michigan next Friday. The Rockets still have time to improve their overall seeding for the conference tournament.
“We just need to keep playing and keep doing what we are doing,” Kowalczyk said. “We need to stay together and stay healthy.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.