MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Nothing cures the road doldrums like a hot-shooting night.
Battling Central Michigan has been a daunting task for the University of Toledo men’s basketball team at McGuirk Arena the past few seasons.
Riding a three-game skid at the home of the Chippewas and losing seven of the past nine matchups in Mount Pleasant, the Rockets flipped the script Saturday and earned a 93-82 win by knocking down a season-high 14 3-pointers.
Toledo's Tre'Shaun Fletcher, shown in a game earlier this season, scored 22 points for the Rockets in a win over Central Michigan Saturday.
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The 3s were raining down early and often, as Toledo hit seven of its first eight shots from behind the arc and quickly opened a double-digit lead on the Chippewas.
“We came out and we started great,” junior guard Jaelan Sanford said. “We had a lot of energy and took it to them, and that was a big key to how we ended it. When we are knocking 3s like that and playing defense like we have been recently, we are a very tough team and we know that. I think we take pride in that. We come out and we want to take great shots. Our team was really feeling it today.”
Junior Nate Navigato hit two straight 3s to start the game and after two 3s from senior Tre’Shaun Fletcher and one from freshman Marreon Jackson, the Rockets led 19-4 with 15 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first half.
“I think it was good for our guys,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said of the quick start. “We are a team that can really make shots, and most of them were wide open. When you press like that and play zone like they do, you are going to get some open shots and we made them. It was at both ends. We shared the ball and we took great shots. The formula for us tonight was simple. Just play hard and take great shots and we did both.”
Fletcher paced Toledo (11-6, 3-1 MAC) with 22 points, while Sanford added 21 points, Navigato scored 18, and Willie Jackson chipped in with 11 off the bench.
In the game, Sanford eclipsed the 1,000 career-point mark.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Sanford said, “but I couldn’t have done it without the rest of my teammates and a tremendous coaching staff. I’m just blessed.”
Shawn Roundtree led Central Michigan (12-5, 1-3 MAC) with 29 points, Kevin McKay and Cecil Williams added 14 points each, and David DiLeo had 10.
Toledo maintained a double-digit lead for much of the first half, but a late run by Central Michigan cut the Rockets lead to 45-39 at halftime.
Roundtree hit a runner in the lane that made it 54-53 with 15:03 left, but Navigato and Sanford knocked down 3s on back-to-back possessions to help Toledo regain control.
Central Michigan cut the lead to five points on several occasions down the stretch, the last coming on a free throw by Gavin Peppers with 1:46 to go that made it 83-78 Toledo.
But Navigato once again had the answer, knocking down another 3 and putting the game out of reach.
“It’s a great road win for us,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought our guys came out with a great deal of energy and got on them early and made some huge shots, some 3s. We defended with great energy to start with. We had some lapses defensively in the second half, but they are a tough cover. They space the floor so well and they are skilled. I’m just proud of the leadership with Tre’Shaun, and Jaelan made some big plays for us and [Navigato] made some big 3s. Willie Jackson had five offensive rebounds, so overall it was a very good effort for us.”
With the fourth win for Toledo in its past five road games and the sixth win in its last seven games overall, the confidence of this team is growing as the season progresses.
“Our confidence is tremendous and I think that goes a long way into being a great team,” Sanford said. “To be a great team, you need road wins and that’s what we are taking pride in right now. It’s tough to come here and get a win. We knew that coming in and at practice I think we went a little harder and that carried over for us and helped us out.”
The Rockets next will play Tuesday at Ohio. With a quick turnaround, Toledo will try to build on its recent road success.
“We will celebrate this, but that is just for tonight, and then tomorrow we forget about it and we move on to the next game,” Sanford said. “We are going to take it back to practice and scout and just do what we usually do to get ready for the next game.”
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