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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/16/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

A tough day all around for Toledo

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

YPSILANTI, Mich. — The statistics were as astounding, maybe the word should be appalling, as the final score.

The University of Toledo’s men’s basketball team managed two points in transition, aka on fast breaks, during the first half and finished the game with two points in transition.

The Rockets scored eight points in the paint during the first half and finished the game with eight points in the paint.

The final score was Eastern Michigan 65, Toledo 44. That’s the same UT team that was 21-3 before stopping by the EMU Convocation Center on Saturday afternoon.

“That’s the best I’ve seen us play our zone,” said Eagles coach Rob Murphy. “We were dialed in for 40 minutes.”

And, boy, were the Rockets dialed out.

Consistent, though: Twenty-two points in the first half; twenty-two points in the second half.

The Mid-American Conference’s highest scoring team posted its lowest total of the season by a mere 23 points.

UT was lousy from 3-point range (7-of-25, .280) and even lousier when attempts from closer in were factored (14-of-54, .259). Go figure.

Murphy came to EMU a few years ago from Syracuse, where he coached under Jim Boeheim, who has won upwards of 1,000 games with his vaunted 2-3 zone defense.

Murphy brought it to Eastern, but the Eagles employing the 2-3 isn’t exactly the same as the Orange doing it.

On Saturday, though, the Rockets might as well have been at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

There are ways to beat a zone, even a good one — bounce passes into the paint and along the baseline to expose lanes to the basket; scoring in transition; shooting over it.

However many ways that is, the Rockets were 0-for.

“I would say that’s accurate,” UT point guard Juice Brown said. “We didn’t get out in transition the way we usually do. Maybe we settled for 3’s too much. We didn’t pass well to find the open spots. They pretty much played their zone to perfection.”

The biggest reason for all that was EMU’s 7-foot center Da’Shonte Riley. He isn’t much of a factor on offense, but could and should get some votes for MAC defender of the year. He had seven blocked shots against UT. Two of them came early against Nathan Boothe, the Rockets’ 6-9 center, and that pretty much discouraged Boothe from wanting to see, touch, or taste the ball again.

Riley swatted J.D. Weatherspoon early, too, and the Rockets’ two most active players around the basket ended up combining for six points.

"Teams try to pick out a weak point of the zone, and if I control the paint, that’s one less option they have," Riley said.

Brown and the rest of UT’s perimeter players spend 40 minutes on their heels, too, again thanks to EMU’s big man.

“The 7-footer made a big difference,” Juice said. “He had a lot of blocks and made it tough to get into the paint and score. I know he made me second-guess some of my decisions. So we settled for some things. It was frustrating not making shots we can make and that affected our defense too.”

All in all, as lousy a day as you can imagine for a pretty good UT team, one that hit a Toledo-sized pothole, but not a roadblock by any means, in its pursuit of a school record for wins, a MAC title, and beyond.

It wasn’t a much better day for coach Tod Kowalczyk.

After two hours of seeing all his plotting turned into plodding, he got rolled by a Ypsilanti-based blogger who read an elongated, scripted question that included some drunken-driving statistics, and eventually asked TK if he had any second thoughts about Justin Drummond’s one-game suspension after a DUI arrest last weekend.

(Drummond, UT’s leading scorer, sat out last Wednesday’s win at home over Ohio; he scored just two points Saturday in 20 minutes of action before fouling out.)

Kowalczyk’s answer? “Eastern Michigan is a good team. We’ll do better the next time we play them.”

When the questioner tried again with a follow-up question, UT’s coach stared him down for a few seconds, and then looked away for anything else from anybody else.

Tough day for the Rockets, top to bottom.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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