Looking Back, and Ahead

Toledo lost to Dayton 77-63 in front of a Friday night crowd of 6,921 at Savage Arena. The Rockets fell to just 2-11 on the season with the loss. Read on for a brief game recap as well as notes and quotes from Coach Cross' Monday afternoon media session.

Toledo's Rockets fell to 2-11 Friday night in a heartbreaking loss to Dayton of the A-10 Conference. Heartbreaking in that the Rockets showed they could compete with the Flyers for much of the game, but didn't have the depth to keep pace throughout the game. Toledo suited up only 8 scholarship players, while Dayton had 14, and played them to great effect. Dayton's Coach Brian Gregory, a former UT assistant, told his club at halftime that the only Toledo starter that got any rest in the opening stanza was Ty Kent, forced to the bench with 2 fouls with 8 minutes left in the half. The other four starters logged roughly 18 or 19 minutes apiece, which he felt would be a key factor late in the game. As it turned out, he knew what he was talking about. Dayton's bench outscored the Rockets' by 24-4, with only 6 Rockets putting up markers for the night.

The Rockets opened the game trading baskets with the Flyers, even forcing more turnovers than they gave up. But when Kent went to the bench, Dayton turned up the defensive pressure and quickly turned a 5 point Toledo lead into a 9 point deficit at the half. It was apparent that Toledo didn't have the guards that were able to play at the speed necessary while still being in control. The Flyers were helped by 3 1st half treys from Marcus Johnson, which Gregory thought were set up by his driving to the basket early in the game. All of those 3s came from the left corner, the same spot he was catching the ball in and driving baseline earlier. The Rockets closed off the baseline, only to see him pop the 3 for all net. Couple his shooting with the almost unbelievable 18-12 assist-to-turnover ratio the Flyers carried for the game, and it was merely a matter of wearing the home team down. Their point guards had 11 assists with zero turnovers on the night, along with 21 points.

It was clear that the Rockets had the desire and intensity to win this game, but not the horses. Jonathan Amos did a nice job of carrying the scoring load, leading all scores with 23, while Kent had 12. A pleasant surprise was the offensive outburst of sophomore Justin Anyijong, who notched his first double double with 16 points and 12 rebounds along with a blocked shot. The Midnight Blue and Gold shot well in the first half, hitting 50%, while holding Dayton to 45.5%. Those numbers were swapped, and then some, in the second half as the fresh legs of the Flyers' bench kept the ball bouncing their way. The Rockets finished a dismal 50% from the free throw line, including a missed one-and-one opportunity.

The difference in the two benches was apparent in more than just the scoring. Rocket PG Larry Bastfield picked up 2 quick fouls in just over 30 seconds, as did Mohamed Lo. The home squad's 15 first half turnovers mostly happened after Kent went to the bench. And as mentioned, it was apparent neither Clayton Sterling nor Bastfield were able to play at a pace necessary to keep the Rockets rolling. Play at the point almost seemed to crawl at times.

Coach Cross opened his post game comments asking if anyone had any Alka Seltzer, and one could understand the knots in his stomach. As he said, the 4 to 5 minute lapses that have been haunting the Rockets have been compounding themselves. He said that he has to put them in positions in practice that allow them to get accustomed to fighting through difficulties successfully. Regarding Johnson's 3 point flurry, Cross said he's their primary 3 point threat and the Rockets didn't get back and get that covered, and that's mental and can be corrected. Cross also said that his charges have to reach a point where a bad play is forgotten immediately and the focus is always on the next play.

Cross was very pleased with Justin's game, saying he was trying to change things up a little with him and Amos. And having Anyijong out shooting from 18 feet and out to 3 point range will often pull the tallest defender out with him. Asked if he was concerned about the 6' 9" forward shooting 3s, Cross said "I don't want a player looking over to the bench and thinking ‘oh, he's gonna pull me if I take a bad shot'. I WILL pull him if he takes a bad shot, but Justin has the skill set that makes that a good shot for him. As a matter of fact, I wish he'd shoot more. He works on it every day in practice, so I'm not going to tell him not to shoot. He's stepping out of his shell…and I just hope I can put him in a position where he can be successful. I think he's going to have a terrific career here. I'm really excited about his progress here."

By now, it is apparent that Gene Cross can analyze an opponent's strengths and weaknesses well. It also seems clear that he knows his own players' capabilities. What hasn't been figured out yet is how to translate that understanding into wins. Cross is as competitive as anyone in the game, but he makes it clear that he is building his program and isn't going to take shortcuts. Cross has talked on occasion of the different people he has spoken with, including Jacksonville head coach Cliff Warren. Cross has sought out the advice of others ever since he came to Toledo in an attempt to expand his proficiency and help him over some of the bumps in the road. Warren was 1-26 in his first year (2005-6), and finished 18-13 last season, including 12-4 in conference. This year, his Dolphins are favored to win their league. Warren's advice included something that Cross has been told before: "you go through tough times as a first year head coach. But you build a foundation. As the gatekeeper of a program, you have to make sure that you don't sacrifice your philosophies and beliefs just to win. You have to hold steadfast to those…and understand that this is what it's going to take for the longevity of the programs' success."

One of the reporters in attendance at Monday's press conference asked Coach Cross how much of the season's difficulties could be a result of not having "his guys". Cross replied that he gets asked that all the time, but "I feel that they're all my guys. I didn't recruit all of them, but they're all my guys. What I have to do is adjust to the personnel that's here right now, while getting them to understand what the foundation of the program is going to be about, and what the philosophies are, but also to get the best out of each one of them and make them the best player they can be."

On Monday, upon returning from the short Christmas break, Cross said that break may have come at the best possible time. "We give the guys a few days off, and it's really important. They get a little time with their families, you get a little time away as a coach. When they come back, the first day is just to blow the cobwebs out. They came back, and the first 5 minutes of practice was pretty low energy, pretty lazy. Some of the guys had traveled from pretty far away. But they cranked it up and wound up having a good practice that night. Tyrone came back from the break and it seems like he's a new man. I don't know who he talked to at home, I don't know if he just had a chance to sit back and think about some of the things he and I have talked about, the first thing we did when we got back was look at some film. And I challenged him to be centered. So he's been very centered, he's been playing hard, he's been trying display leadership, not just from a physical standpoint, but from a vocal standpoint, which is totally outside Tyrone's box, to say the least, so I'm hoping that translates to the court."

Cross is hoping that Ridley Johnson is able to return in the next 5-7 days, though he still says they will not rush him. He's been getting a lot of treatment and responding well to it.

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