TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Where does the University of Toledo men's basketball team stand going into the final two weeks of the regular season?
Coach Gene Cross hardly knew how to answer after watching the Rockets step away from the rigors of Mid-American Conference play to drop a 69-62 encounter to Indiana State of the Missouri Valley Conference on ESPNU BracketBuster Saturday.
"Wow, I think that's the million-dollar question," Cross said. "We have to play harder. We have to play a full game. We can't try to turn it on when we're down five or seven or nine or 12. We have to aggressively attack the basket and aggressively understand when we have to pull up and not charge over people."
Toledo had its season average 16 turnovers, was outscored by 20-to-12 at the free-throw line, had guards Jonathan Amos and Larry Bastfield foul out, and made two of 11 three-pointers - in a game the Rockets trailed for all but the first two minutes and could get no closer than seven points in the second half.
Indiana State has won five straight games to improve to 9-19 on the season.
Down 10-6 in the opening minutes, the Rockets (5-22) tried to apply a variety of pressure defenses.
The tactic may have confused the Sycamores for awhile, allowing the Rockets to pull within one point, 17-16, after a layup by Justin Anyijong with 8:33 left in the first half.
But four turnovers, two missed 3-pointer, a missed layup, and three fouls kept the Rockets off the scoreboard for the next five and a half minutes, putting them behind 25-18 with 3:02 left. Toledo trailed 32-24 at halftime.
Three turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half and 57 percent free-throw shooting (4 of 7) hurt Toledo's comeback attempt.
"We had our opportunities," said Cross, who watched his team lose on the road for the 15th time in 16 games. "We just couldn't string positive plays together - whether it was positive offensively or defensively - and to Indiana State's credit they made sure that we didn't, through getting to the free-throw line (hitting 20 of 23 free throws) or knocking down big 3-point shots (seven).
"It's deflating when they break the press and they score. You try to put yourself in a position to create opportunities for yourself, and you wind up giving opportunities and they take advantage of those opportunities."
Despite Toledo's pressure defense, Indiana State had only 10 turnovers - a key statistic that impressed Cross and Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna.
"We thought we would see everything [from Toledo's defense], and we pretty much did. The more patient we were the better we were," McKenna said. "[Toledo] is a big, athletic team and they move pretty well. They gave us some problems.
"These nonconference games at the end of the season are tough games to play. Your focus is so much for two months on your conference. Then you're playing a team that you don't know much about.
It's kind of a curve ball. The team that adjusts better usually prevails."
Tyrone Kent led the Rockets with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Amos had 15 points, and Mohammed Lo had 12. Toledo outrebounded the Sycamores 36-to-24.
"We wanted to speed up the game and make them do some unforced errors. But they handled the press very well," Amos said. "We have to buckle down and stop having a lot of mental lapses during a game. We have to play hard for all 40 minutes."
Jay Tunnell led Indiana State with 17 points and seven rebounds. The Sycamores' balanced scoring was highlighted by Harry Marshall with 16 points, Rashad Reed with 15, and Jordan Printy with 13.
The Rockets will return to MAC play Wednesday at Eastern Michigan.
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