The Toledo men’s basketball team went on the road to battle two key MAC opponents to wrap up its winter break slate.
The first game of the two-game road trip started in Buffalo, New York, as the Rockets took on the MAC East leading, and nationally-ranked Buffalo Bulls.
The trip to Buffalo started quite sluggish for the Rockets, Buffalo bolted to a 14-point lead in the early stages of the game. The Rockets hung around for a while in the first half, until another dangerous Buffalo spurt pole vaulted them to a large lead.
That big spurt led to a disheartening 44-24 Bulls lead, and it carried to a 45-32 halftime advantage for the home team. The second half was even more grim for the Rockets on the ropes.
After seemingly getting the best of the Bulls offense in the first half, the Rockets looked to make a game saving push in the second half.
What they got, though, was an even bigger offensive explosion. Despite cutting the deficit to a meager eight points, the Rockets could not sustain the defensive focus to keep the Bulls at bay.
Buffalo exploded for 65 second half points, including a 13-0 run that all but sealed the game. When it was all said and done, the Bulls put up a blistering 110 points on the Rockets, who had 80. The 30-point loss marked the worst defeat of the season for the Rockets.
Chris Darrington and Marreon Jackson led the charge offensively for the Rockets with 21 and 20 points, respectively despite the loss. The Bulls shot 52 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three; both numbers indicate a strong offense.
With a bad taste in their mouths, the Rockets looked to avenge their worst loss of the season in Kalamazoo, Michigan, against MAC West rival Western Michigan.
These two teams meet for the first of two contests, a season series the Rockets hope to sweep.
Back and forth lead changes was the theme of the first half against the Broncos. The Rockets seemed comfortable early, up 22-14, but quickly succumbed to a massive Bronco run. The Rockets closed out the first half with some momentum, though, and led at the break 37-36.
Key players for the Rockets were Jaelan Sanford and Jackson. The run proved integral for a UT victory.
With 48 points in the second half, and by shooting 14-27 from three gave the Rockets the crucial edge they needed to win a big conference road game 85-77.
Sanford and Jackson had 21 and 15 points respectively, and the Rockets were paced all evening long by Nate Navigato who also had 21.
“That was a really big win for us,” head coach Tod Kowalczyk said after the win. “I thought our defense was better and that we played really well offensively in the second half when we had just two turnovers.”
The Rockets will continue MAC action when they host the Miami Redhawks at 7 p.m., Jan. 15 in Savage Arena.
The last time these two teams faced off in a 71-61 Rocket victory over the Redhawks. The game was the first round of the MAC men’s basketball tournament.