Milo Kirsh may have been harder on himself than any of his coaches or teammates were during the first two-thirds of the season.
Kirsh, a 6-7 sophomore backup forward/center for the University of Toledo men's basketball team, admits he struggled to keep his head up while trying to find his game and some more playing time.
“I was bummed out and was taking basketball home with me at night,” Kirsh said yesterday. “I stopped socializing with people and my teammates. I just felt like I wasn't contributing as much as I should be, and it really had me down.
“I'm not a quitter, so I just tried to work my way out of it by working on different parts of my game. I scrapped my jump shot and tried to work on what the team needed me to do. I worked on my post game a little. For awhile, that wasn't working, either.
“So, I just had to perfect some moves and eventually coach (Stan) Joplin started gaining more confidence in me, and so did my teammates. All of a sudden, things started going well and I started playing better.”
Kirsh, a transfer from Bradley, averaged 3.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 11.1 minutes in Toledo's first 21 games. In the past eight, he is contributing 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in 16.3 minutes.
For that reason, look for Kirsh to be one of the first guys off the bench tonight when No.4 seed Toledo (20-9, 12-6) hosts No.13 Eastern Michigan (3-24, 1-17) in the first round of the MAC Tournament at 7:30 at Savage Hall.
“Milo has made a lot of improvement defensively,” Joplin said. “He's in position now and he's playing to his strengths. He's taking the ball to the basket and using his athletic ability. He's catching the ball and rebounding with two hands. And now, the players are throwing him the ball because he's doing something with it.
“Before, he was thinking too much. I told him, `Milo, you play like you're on delay.' But now he's not playing like he's on instant replay anymore. He knows what he has to do, he's had a little success and that has helped him dramatically.”
Kirsh, who started both games at center against Central Michigan, replacing Craig Rodgers, did a solid job in relief of Rodgers Saturday as the streaking Rockets won their fifth straight game - 70-64 over Ball State.
Kirsh also helped UT clinch its first 20-win season since the 1980-81 team finished 21-10 under coach Bob Nichols.
“From the center position, we don't really need more than 10 or 12 points,” said Toledo's Greg Stempin, who practiced yesterday despite being slowed by food poisoning. “Milo's been doing that and doing a great job on the defensive end and grabbing rebounds and that has given us a big lift.”
Kirsh, from Indianapolis, finished with 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds against Ball State while helping limit Cardinal center Lonnie Jones to just eight points and eight boards.
“That is how we envisioned Milo Kirsh playing,” Joplin said. “He's shown flashes. But (Saturday) he took a big step forward. Hopefully, he can continue to do that. We're going to need him down the stretch.”
“I figure if I keep playing hard, I'll be fine and good things will happen,” Kirsh said.
Kirsh and the Rockets are very familiar with Eastern Michigan, which finished the season with seven straight losses.
Toledo defeated the Eagles twice in the regular season - 74-55 on the road Jan. 10 and 76-63 at home Feb. 21, despite missing starting point guard Terry Reynolds.
The Toledo-Eastern Michigan winner will face the Buffalo-Ohio winner in the quarterfinals Thursday at 2 p.m. at Gund Arena in Cleveland. Ohio (17-10, 12-6) is the No.5 seed, while Buffalo (4-23, 2-16) is No.12.
The Rockets beat both teams pretty easily in the regular season, defeating the Bobcats 66-53 at home on Jan. 31 and the Bulls 78-66 on the road Feb. 19.