Toledo’s Justin Roberts, right, and Ohio’s Jaaron Simmons, battle for a loose ball during Thursday’s game. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
CLEVELAND — In college basketball, March isn’t always fair.
The University of Toledo men’s basketball team, led by an inspiring effort from senior Jordan Lauf, came up one play short in a wild 67-66 loss to Ohio on Thursday in a Mid-American Conference tournament quarterfinal at Quicken Loans Arena.
Ohio’s Kenny Kaminski hit a jumper with seven seconds left off a pass from point guard Jaaron Simmons. UT coach Tod Kowalczyk opted not to call a timeout, and Jonathan Williams drove the ball up the court and missed a driving layup attempt.
IN PICTURES: Ohio 67, Toledo men 66
Lauf then missed a shot on the follow as time expired.
“I don’t regret one bit not calling a timeout,” Kowalczyk said. “We have Jon Jon pushing it, who is probably the best offensive player in the league. And then Jordan has a put-back, and a good look at it.”
Toledo took a 66-64 lead after a steal and layup by Williams with 28 seconds left. On the next possession, Jason Carter was fouled by Steve Taylor, Jr., on a short shot attempt with 23 seconds left. Carter made one of two free throws. Taylor grabbed the missed shot and was immediately fouled.
Taylor then missed the front end of the one-and-one with 22 seconds left, setting up Ohio for Kaminski’s final shot.
“I guess the regret I have is we should have subbed when Carter was at the foul line and had Navigato in there and not Steve Taylor,” Kowalczyk said. “That was a mistake we made.”
Simmons said he was bottled up on the winning play by Lauf, who missed much of the first half with a painful back injury, and was forced to pass to Kaminski open for the shot.
“With Kenny, seeing that shot go in, you know, it’s been a long journey for Kenny,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said.
“He’s grown so much, transformed himself as a person and as a student and, you know, that doesn’t mean you get to have a moment like this. That’s not how life works. After having a bad back and coming back, does Lauf deserve to go out like that? The kid poured it all out on the floor and it was painful for him you could see it on his face. Again, March isn’t about fairness, it’s about making a play and Kenny made a big play.”
Williams led Toledo (17-16) with 18 points, Lauf had 12 points, and Jaelan Sanford scored 11.
Simmons paced Ohio (20-10) with 24 points, and Carter scored 19.
Lauf grabbed his back in pain less than five minutes into the game. He went into the locker room to receive treatment for the rest of the half, and then returned to the lineup to begin the second half.
“I mean, I was going to do anything that I could to get back out there,” Lauf said. “The medical staff did a great job working on it the whole first half and then had a little bit of time at halftime, but I was going to do anything to get back out there. I mean, it hurt, but like I said, I was going to do anything that I could to get back on the floor for my teammates.”
Toledo led by 15 points in the first half after a Taylor layup made the score 32-17 with 3:36 left. Ohio then closed the half on a 14-5 run to cut the halftime lead to 37-29.
Ohio opened the second half with a 12-0 run after a Jordan Dartis layup, two baskets from Simmons, and six straight points from Carter.
“How we started the second half was clearly the story of the game,” Kowalczyk said.
“I thought our transition defense was poor. Start the second half with a layup and Steve misses it was kind of set the tone a little bit for us on the offensive end, but we battled back.”
Ohio pushed the lead to eight points at 50-42 on a 3-pointer by Kaminski with 10:52 left. Toledo slowly worked its way back and tied the game 58-58 with 5:17 left after a 3-pointer and a layup by Lauf.
The Bobcats pushed the lead back to 64-61 after a layup by Simmons with 1:57 left. After a pair of missed threes by both teams, Nate Navigato drained a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left to tie the game 64-64. That led to the steal by Williams on the next Ohio possession.
“Overall, I’m proud of the guys next to me, proud of our guys,” Kowalczyk said.
“Jordan Lauf had an unbelievable senior year. In the locker room, he couldn’t even take off his shoes.
“I know we have an outstanding medical crew, but had we played [tonight], I highly, highly doubt he would have been able to play. And I can tell you this, it would be awfully difficult to win in a semifinal game without that guy because he is above and beyond our definition of a foxhole guy and what we represent in our program.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.
Toledo’s Jonathan Williams tries to drive past Ohio’s Jordan Dartis, left, and Gavin Block during the Rockets’ loss in a MAC quarterfinal game in Cleveland on Thursday. Williams led the Rockets with 18 points. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH