CLEVELAND - OK, so there were plenty of excuses. It was a noon tip-off after a late night. It was No. 1 vs. No. 8. They were disinterested. They weren't sharp. They were still wiping away the cobwebs. They weren't at the top of their games. So be it.
No, no. The stat crew.
The official box score from yesterday's 62-54 Toledo win over Eastern Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament says that UT's Jonathan Amos had five steals.
Heck, he had that many by halftime, and he had more in the second half than he did the first.
Here's our unofficial box score line for Amos: 6-of-7 shooting, 13 points, 7 rebounds, 11 steals, 3 blocked shots and 3 assists.
Not a bad day at the office for the 6-foot-4 sophomore, which is why the top-seeded Rockets lived to play another day here at Quicken Loans Arena.
That wasn't a given. Eastern Michigan is loaded with young talent and got better and better as the season progressed. The Rockets had a couple key players under the weather, were bouncing bricks every which way off the iron and were a step or two slow getting back on defense. Did we mention they were losing 11-4?"Then Amos went in the game and gave us a jolt," said coach Stan Joplin.
It was more like electro-shock.
In the blink of en eye, Amos tipped in a missed shot, measured a 3-pointer from the corner, made a steal and layup, and blocked a shot that led to a fast-break score by Tyrone Kent. Then Justin Ingram got in on the act, notching one of his six steals and feeding Keonta Howell for a dunk and a 24-15 Toledo lead.
Later in the half, Amos scored after an offensive rebound and then blocked a shot, got the ball back from Kent and scored on the fast break.
Amos is an emotional player who sometimes gets caught up in those high-energy moments and occasionally plays a tad out of control. He used to drive Joplin crazy.
"He still does, just not as much," UT's coach said. "He used to go from making a great play to a bonehead play. You'd think, 'Has he ever played basketball before?' Now he's taking what he does on defense, making good decisions, and turning it into just as big a play at the other end.
"I've learned to bite my tongue, meet him halfway and give him more freedom than anybody on the team. He takes chances and sometimes ends up out of position because of that, but there are far more pluses now than minuses."
Kashif Payne was named the MAC's top defensive player earlier this week. It is an award Amos will undoubtedly win before he leaves UT.
But defense isn't the reason he said yesterday's game was the best of his career.
"That's my role, that's what I always do," he said. "Pressuring a team, wearing them down, getting deflections and steals is a lot of fun. But that was probably the best I've played at the offensive end, too. I've been getting more and more comfortable."
The second half was more of the same. When Amos was on the bench, Eastern Michigan was in the game. When he was on the floor, the game was as good as over.
He played a role in three straight UT transition baskets with two steals - the Rockets ran up a 28-4 edge in points after turnovers - and one nifty assist. Later, with EMU looking to slice into a 56-49 deficit, Amos came out of nowhere to slap away a wide-open, 3-point attempt by Eastern's Jesse Bunkley.
(If you've been counting, that's three blocked shots. The final box score said two. But we've already addressed that.)
Anyway, he blocked the ball, chased it into the corner, and started a fast break that
resulted in a three-point play by Tino Valencia for a 59-49 lead with under 4:00 to play. Game, set, match.
The beauty of Amos, above and beyond the sweat band he wears, angel-like, on his head, is that he does everything with a smile on his face.
"I've been doing this a long time and I love playing basketball," he said. "There's no reason to play mad. Just go out there and have fun, man."
OK, man. But next time, wake the statisticians before the game starts. They're killin' you.
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