There were many lessons learned in the collegiate debuts for four University of Toledo freshmen, but first and foremost of them has to be this - committing 21 turnovers is not a recipe for success.
The Rockets turned the ball over 12 times in the first 16 minutes and never led in the second half in a 72-62 loss to Eastern Illinois last night in front of 4,127 at Savage Arena.
"We turned the ball over recklessly and were very, very careless," UT Gene Cross said. "My old nemesis is back. I feel like it's Groundhog Day, because here we are
sitting here talking about 21 turnovers and they had 11 turnovers. Anytime you turn the ball over that many times, you don't give yourself a good chance to win."
Sophomore guard Jeremy Granger poured in 21 points, senior forward Edin Suljic added 14 and senior guard T.J. Marion 10 for the veteran Panthers (1-0), whose lineup featured four seniors compared to zero for UT.
"Eastern Illinois is a very seasoned team," Cross said. "They came in and did exactly what I thought they would do in terms of just being able to control the game, especially early."
Redshirt freshman guard Stephen Albrecht hit three 3-pointers to lead UT (0-1) with 15 points. Junior forward Justin Anyijong chipped in with 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds, while sophomore point guard Larry Bastfield had five points and a career-high six assists.
"We definitely had a little bit of nerves in the first half," Albrecht said of the Rockets' freshmen. "You have the little butterflies in your stomach, but I mean, this wasn't our first basketball game, so we've been through this before. It's just a higher level."
Albrecht also was a perfect 4-of-4 from the free-throw line to get his team back in it in the second half.
The Rockets didn't sink their first free throw until freshman guard Josh Freelove knocked down one of his two attempts with
12:54 remaining in the game. Before that, UT was 0-for-3 from the charity stripe. The Rockets finished 14-of-18 from the line.
"That was definitely the focus since the exhibition [loss to Central State], just trying to get to the free throw line," Albrecht said. "That's key when you can get into the bonus early because free throws are huge, especially when you knock them down, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight."
Trailing 52-39 with
9:09 to play, Albrecht sunk four straight free throws on back-to-back possessions to cut the Panthers' lead to single digits.
Then after a media timeout, Anyijong and Albrecht both drilled a pair of 3-pointers, forcing Eastern Illinois to call time out with
6:54 remaining and their lead down to 52-49.
But that was as close as UT would come the rest of the way, as the Panthers closed the game on a 16-9 run.
"We really showed our high potential at some points, like in the second half when we made that run," Anyijong said. "We do good things, but then we ruin it by doing some bad things.
"Eastern Illinois is a veteran team. Some plays we showed we were really young, and they'd show their maturity and having that experience."
GRIFFIN OUT: UT freshman guard Malcolm Griffin sat out last night's game after breaking his right (shooting) hand in practice Wednesday. Cross said after the game that Griffin will be out 2-4 weeks.
"It is what they call a 'boxer's fracture,'" Cross said. "We're very fortunate that the break wasn't as severe as it could have been, because he could have been out two months."
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