Toledo's Rockets ended their regular season in Savage Arena on the same note they opened their home campaign…with a win. The differences between that UMass game and this one against the NIU Huskies were dramatic however. Against UMass, the Rockets were fortunate to escape with a win on a last second tip-in by Justin Anyijong and were guilty of some pretty sloppy ball handling and passing throughout. A lot of teams made UT pay for those characteristics throughout the long season, but today's Rockets looked like a far different team. And as so many games have this year, this game was decided on turnovers and assists. Toledo won both statistical categories today.
Toledo opened the final game with Senior Day, introducing all the seniors and presenting them with mounted and framed jerseys before the player introductions. During those intros, it was obvious that Jonathan Amos came to play his heart out. As the last starter introduced (all 4 seniors started today), he jumped into the huddle barking encouragement to his teammates. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm didn't take right away as the Rockets struggled for the first couple minutes of the game. They looked a step slow on defense and flat-footed on offense, falling behind 4-0 before Justin Anyijong broke the ice with one of two free throws at the 17:58 mark. 45 seconds later, Tyrone Kent got the first of 19 UT assists on the night as he fed Anthony Byrd for a 3 pointer that seemed to right the Rockets' ship, and followed that with another assist to Mohamed Lo for a dunk that brought the crowd, and the team, to life. Kent finished the night with a game-high 6 assists to go along with his 15 points.
The first half saw the score tied 6 times, and the Midnight Blue and Gold finally took their first lead (there were 5 lead changes in the half) at 16-14 on a Bastfield assist to Anyijong for two. At the 8:56 mark, Mohamed Lo posted his only assist of the game as the Rockets were moving in transition. He caught the ball coming into the key and found Justin Anyijong under the bucket for a dunk and a 20-18 UT lead. The Rocket offense went quiet for the next 3+ minutes though, and NIU built a short-lived 5 point lead with 6:10 remaining.
Toledo then went on a 13-5 run to finish out the half leading 35-31. Dismal 3 point and foul shooting by the good guys kept the game close for the half as the Toledo notched only 27.3% (3 for 11) from beyond the arc and 28.6% on 2 of 7 free throws, including several misses on the front of 1 and 1s.
The Rockets scoring throughout the half was very balance, with nobody over 10 but 5 players with 5 or more, led by Jonathan Amos. Amos would finish the day with 19 on 71 of 15 shooting, along with 4 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals. Amazingly, those numbers came in only 31 minutes of play as Coach Gene Cross substituted freely all day.
Toledo came out of the locker room for the second half energized and had made a few adjustments. Ty Kent opened the scoring for the Rockets with a nice 3 just 6 seconds into the half, and was followed by Justin Anyijong nailing 2 of his own on back-to-back possessions. Jonathan Amos got into the act with a 3 of his own and the Rockets were up 46-39 at the 16:28 mark. Amos followed that possession with a layup to give UT it's biggest lead of the contest at 48-39. The Huskies cut the lead to a single point at 48-47 at the 11:09 mark, and again at 8:16 mark, 56-55. Each time the visitors mounted a little comeback, however, the Rockets had an answer and the Huskies never led in the 2nd half.
Solid free throw shooting and timely jumpers kept the Rockets in command, including clutch free throws by Bastfield (5 points, 5 assists, 1 turnover) and Ty Kent down the stretch. Coach Cross should be given props for his coaching throughout the game as well. As mentioned before, he substituted early and often, and his players responded. There was little drop off, though UTs bench was outscored 24-15 on the day. As important, no one had to play exhausted, as Justin Anyijong has 33 minutes to lead the Rockets in that stat, with 6 players notching 26 minutes or more.
Cross also did a great job of managing the last minute or so of the game, subbing players in and out for offense and defense, and calling for the foul on NIU players before they could put up enough 3 pointers to get any closer than 3 as the game clock wound down.
Tyrone Kent finished the scoring off by slamming home a feed from Jonathan Amos on a Rocket fast break after an NIU made 3 pointer with 0:03 showing on the clock. Larry Bastfield fouled NIUs Michael Patton in the inbounds pass with 1 second left, forcing NIU to inbound the ball again and throw up a desperation 3 pointer that was rebounded by Clayton Sterling to end the game.
We'll have player and Coach's comments on the game and the upcoming MAC tournament in an update in the next day or two.
Regular Season Ends
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