The University of Toledo men’s basketball team extended its win streak to five games as it throttled Ohio University 91-57 on Jan. 17, then took down Kent State 72-65 at Savage Arena on Jan. 27.
The Rockets were locked in on both sides of the court against the Bobcats; they shot 52 percent from the field, including 59 percent from three-point range. OU was held to just 35 percent shooting and was outrebounded 46-29.
“We’re getting better defensively, and that played a big role in our win tonight,” head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We’re also extremely unselfish offensively, and that makes us hard to guard. It certainly was a total team effort tonight, and that was a big key for us in getting another road win.”
A pair of third-year Rockets, Jaelan Sanford and Nate Navigato, both scored 16 points. Meanwhile, fourth-year forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher led the team with 18 points.
The game was tied early in the first half when two three-pointers by first-year guard Marreon Jackson gave UT a 17-11 advantage with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.
The offense caught fire after that, and a three by Navigato put UT ahead by double digits for the first time in the contest. That bucket started a 15-0 run, breaking the game wide open. By the end of the run, Toledo was ahead 42-20 with three minutes left in the first half.
The Bobcats cut it to 19 with a three at the buzzer by third-year forward Gavin Block. They carried some of that momentum into the second half by scoring six straight points to reduce the deficit to 15. That is the closest it would get for the rest of the game as UT quickly built back its 20-point advantage capped off with a three-pointer from Sanford.
“We went through a stretch in December when our guys stayed together even we weren’t playing well,” Kowalczyk said. “It’s a resilient group; it’s a positive group.”
The lead never went back under 20 as they silenced the OU crowd. It was not so easy as the Rockets returned to Savage Arena to battle Kent State.
Offense was tougher to come by as the Rockets shot just 28 percent from the field. Third-year forward Luke Knapke scored 16 points and added eight rebounds, while Fletcher scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“It’s a huge win; we’re just one step closer to our goal,” Fletcher said after the game.
The midnight blue and gold got off to a quick start, going on a 15-3 run in the first seven minutes of the game and forcing the Golden Flashes into a timeout. But they quickly cut the lead to seven with a spurt that ended with a three by Jaylin Walker, who scored 19 points for KSU.
KSU scored nine straight points to tie the game at 27 with 1:20 remaining in the first half. Sanford quickly broke the tie, answering with a shot from behind the arc. Walker tied the game at 30 with a three just before halftime.
The teams traded buckets to begin the second half. Fletcher spearheaded the offense for Toledo, but they could not break away from the Golden Flashes. The lead changed hands four times in five minutes.
“Second-half defense was very good tonight,” Kowalczyk said.
UT took the lead for good on a thunderous throw down by Fletcher that got the Savage Arena crowd out of its seats. KSU guard Desmond Ridenour made a layup with 4:25 on the clock; KSU would not make another field goal until there were only 20 seconds left in game.
That sealed their fate as Fletcher and the UT offense kept coming and earned its fifth win in a row and eighth in its last nine games.
“There was a great crowd tonight; we’re capable of having that crowd every time we play here,” Fletcher said.
The next game for the midnight blue and gold is on the road against Western Michigan (11-8, 3-3) on Jan. 23. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.