FAIRBORN, Ohio - Something is missing. Or someone. It is just two games into the season, but the University of Toledo basketball team does not yet resemble its expectations. Not even close.
The Rockets fell to 0-2 with a 74-64 loss yesterday to Wright State in a game in which they never led and struggled to sustain any kind of continuity.
UT coach Stan Joplin said he is searching for answers after his team turned the ball over too often, had difficulty scoring, and suffered defensive lapses.
"It was all of those things," Joplin said. "And that makes it tough to win. Sometimes we are impatient and we turn the ball over, and sometimes we make non-aggressive turnovers. It's just mind-boggling the way we played."
Toledo, the overwhelming favorite to win the Mid-American Conference title this season, again had difficulty scoring - an area that Joplin expected to be a strength. Keith Triplett went just 2-of-11 from the field and had just five points. Junior Sammy Villegas hit just 1 of 7 from the field and finished with three points. For the second straight points. For the second straight game, Florentino Valencia came off the bench to lead the Rockets, scoring 17 points.
"We're not going to win very many games with Keith and Sammy playing the way they are," Joplin said. "You have to have some scoring from them. I thought scoring was going to be a strength, so this is hard to explain."
Wright State (3-1), a young team with just one senior and one junior, had a 10-point lead with about six minutes to go and refused to let the Rockets back in it. Toledo could not contain Wright State point guard DaShaun Wood, who scored 25 points and hit 11 of 14 free-throw attempts.
"We knew he was going to get into the lane," Joplin said, "but we let him get into the lane too much and that really hurt."
After trailing 39-31 at the half, Toledo cut the lead to as few as three points early in the second half as Valencia scored off the break and Anton Currie followed with a 3-pointer from the wing that made it 39-36. The Rockets had a chance to reduce the lead to one or tie it but turned the ball over without getting a shot.
Another 3 from Currie got UT within 45-43 with about 14 minutes left in the game, but Wright State got seven quick points to open it back up. When Wood was fouled on a drive and awarded two shots, Joplin disputed the call and received a technical. Wood made both technical shots, both free throws, and after a UT miss, Zakee Boyd hit a 3 from the corner for a 52-43 lead.
"I think that was the turning point of the game when I got the technical," Joplin said. "We were making a run, and I just can't put the team in that position. It was very uncharacteristic."
The Rockets, who dropped their season-opener at Vanderbilt just over a week ago by a 73-57 score, could not avoid the flat start that Joplin had been concerned about. Wright State led 12-4 just five minutes into the game as Wood split the UT defense on a drive to the basket, which followed consecutive break-away dunks by Everett Spencer.
A 3-pointer by Villegas from deep in the corner - his only basket of the game - cut the advantage to 21-15 about a minute later, but a 3 from the wing by Spencer and a jump hook inside by Zach Williams stretched it right back out to 26-15.
The Raiders, whose only loss was an 83-66 decision to No. 10 Arizona, led 35-25 with about four minutes left in the half when Williams scored inside and added a free throw.
Toledo did not get a basket from Triplett until just 3:36 remained in the half when he put back his own miss.
"We're not even close to what we were doing last year," Joplin said. "You have to give quite a bit of credit to Wright State because I thought they played very well, and right now, we'd do anything to get back home."
The Rockets play their first game at Savage Hall Dec. 7 against Nevada.
"This is an unbelievable win for our program, to beat a team of Toledo's caliber," Wright State coach Paul Biancardi said. "They are talented and they are very difficult to play against. We're very fortunate to win this game."
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.