The Toledo Rockets ended an impressive run in the MAC tournament with a loss to the University of Buffalo in the finals of the tournament, 76-66. This marks the end of UT’s 2017-18 season, as they turned down invitations for the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Rockets finish the season 23-11.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win for our players first and foremost,” said head coach Tod Kowalczyk. “I really believe that as good as they have been all season, they deserved something special at the ending. But just because you deserve it, doesn’t mean you get it or have luck on your side. I thought tonight we couldn’t have played any harder, and I’m really proud of the way we played.”
The Rockets started the tournament March 8 against Miami University. Third-year guard Jaelan Sanford led the Rockets in scoring with 21 points. MAC player of the year Tre’Shaun Fletcher and second-year center Luke Knapke followed with 16 points each.
Toledo shot an abysmal 2-15 from the arc but still managed to come away with a 30-29 lead at the half. This lead was supported by a 7-0 run the Rockets made toward the middle of the first half.
The Rockets secured the win in the second half, where the team’s tight defense held Miami to just 39.4 percent shooting from the field. The Rockets, on the other hand, shot 48.1 percent from the field in the second half, improving greatly on their first half shot percentage of 38.9 percent.
Toledo also had two season lows in fouls (nine) and turnovers (six) to help them secure a 71-69 victory.
From there, Toledo advanced to face Eastern Michigan University, a team the Rockets had lost to seven days earlier by a score of 69-71. This meetup was just as thrilling.
A clutch career night from first-year guard Marreon Jackson helped Toledo overcome the loss of star player Tre’Shaun Fletcher on the first possession of the game.
Jackson had a career high 26 points, along with a three-pointer with nine seconds left in the game that gave Toledo the lead they needed to win.
The game started as awful as it possibly could for the Rockets, with Fletcher going down with a knee injury on the first play of the game. The loss of their star player seemed to ignite the team, with Toledo going on a 10-0 run to take a 12-4 lead early in the game. Toledo increased this lead to 25-18 as Jackson began to heat up, nailing his third three of the half. Toledo went into the half with a three-point lead, 31-28. Shortly into the second half EMU went on an 8-0 run to regain the lead, 38-37. Toledo rallied from the run, bringing the game to 61-61 with 45 seconds left. An EMU layup gave Toledo one last chance to save the game, and Marreon Jackson stepped up big. Jackson hit his eighth three of the night with nine seconds left, giving Toledo the one-point lead, 64-63.
This win put Toledo in the championship against No. 1 seed University of Buffalo, but Tre’Shaun Fletcher was out of the lineup. Toledo fought hard to stay in the game, but eventually fell to the Bulls, 76-66.
Toledo was led by Sanford’s 19 points, with Jackson putting up 13. The Rockets stuck with the Bulls the entire game, until a late 9-0 run from Buffalo blew out the close game.
Toledo was unable to replicate their sharp shooting from the previous game, making only 36.8 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from the three-point arc. The Rockets also faltered on assists, with a season low of only seven.
The Rockets kept the game close nearly the entire time, with the game being tied as late as 5:32 left in the second half. After a 9-0 run from Buffalo, the score was 72-63 with 1:45 left.
Toledo was unable to recover, and Buffalo was awarded the MAC championship.
Toledo was not selected for the National Invitation Tournament and declined two other tournament offers, making it the team’s last game of the season. The Rockets will take the floor next winter with fresh faces, looking to improve upon an already impressive season.