Toledo's Justin Roberts drives past Oakland's Brailen Neely during Toledo's 87-74 win Saturday at Savage Arena.
The recipe for success was a bit different for the University of Toledo men’s basketball team on Saturday at Savage Arena, but the Rockets got the result they wanted with an 87-74 victory over Oakland.
Toledo struggled with its outside shooting, but took care of the ball and clamped down on the defensive end against the high-scoring Golden Grizzlies and it paid off with a key home win that keeps the Rockets unbeaten early in the season.
“I thought that was a very good team effort,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I thought our energy defensively was as good as it’s been since I’ve been here. We came out and really defended early to set the tone. When you beat a team as good as Oakland by 13 points and we couldn’t make a shot tonight. We were 4-for-21 from 3 and that is our bread and butter. It speaks volumes to how we played and how we shared the ball. We only had eight turnovers.”
Jaelan Sanford led the Rockets (3-0) with 26 points, and Tre’Shaun Fletcher added 20 points. Luke Knapke chipped in with his first career double-double scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to go with three blocked shots off the bench.
“It was a huge team win for us,” Sanford said. “Everyone stepped up and played well for us tonight. We all played very well. We were 4-for-21 from 3, but we just stayed together and got the win.”
With the 3-point shot not falling for the Rockets, Sanford continued to move without the ball to find lanes inside the arc and was able to find teammates when he did have the ball in his hands.
“It’s just having great teammates and cutting and coming hard off screens,” Sanford said. “They are setting great screens for me and they are just finding me and I am finding them. We’re all playing team ball.”
Toledo closed the first half on a 14-3 run over the final four minutes and went to the locker room leading 40-26. Knapke had seven points during the key stretch and he, Fletcher, and Marreon Jackson each hit 3-pointers and Nate Navigato added a free throw.
In the second half, Toledo led by as many as 16 points, and survived an Oakland push midway through.
The Golden Grizzlies cut the Toledo lead to five points at 62-57 with 7:22 to play. But that was as close as Oakland would get as the Rockets answered with a quick 8-1 run that stretched the lead back to 12 points. During the run Knapke made two free throws, and Fletcher, Sanford, and Jackson each had layups.
Martez Walker paced Oakland (2-1) with 29 points and Kendrick Nunn added 24 points.
“I thought we did a really good job on Nunn,” Kowalczyk said. “He had 24 points on 27 shots and I thought that was very efficient defensively. We made him work for everything. I thought we did a good job on Walker. Overall I was very pleased with how we guarded him.”
Toledo took advantage of its early home schedule and will hit the road for a three-game road trip which opens against Syracuse on Wednesday night.
“It feels like there is a lot of confidence with these wins,” Sanford said. “It shows in the locker room and we are all excited and we are ready for Syracuse.’
Kowalczyk said he has enjoyed working with this young and talented group so far this season.
“I’m learning I’m having a lot of fun coaching them,” Kowalczyk said. “It’s a good group of men that like each other and are unbelievably unselfish and could care less who scores or who gets the credit. We’re are just going to keep developing some young bench players and keep getting better defensively. We’re going to have some struggles from the 3-point line like we did tonight, but it’s nothing I worry about because we are such a good shooting team. We can score and we can shoot.”
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