In a season of worsts, the free-falling University of Toledo men's basketball team may have hit rock bottom Saturday.
The Rockets fell 59-48 to Central Michigan in the second game of a doubleheader at Savage Arena after the UT women defeated the Chippewas 74-60.
UT (3-12, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) has lost five straight, failing to surpass the 60-point barrier or shoot at least 40 percent in each of those contests.
The Rockets' 48 points were a season-low, and it was the third time this season they scored 49 points or fewer.
During the final media timeout of the second half with 2:33 remaining with UT losing 57-40, most of the 5,199 fans in attendance headed for the exits, leaving behind a quiet, morose arena.
"That was a very ugly game," UT coach Gene Cross said. "They came out and jumped on us. It took us a while to catch a rhythm, but while we were trying to catch a rhythm, they caught a rhythm and were effective offensively. And we weren't."
After starting the season on a six-game losing streak, the Rockets won three out of four to start the month of December.
But any progress seems to have been lost during this current skid.
"It seems like there is a sky-is-falling mentality when I think that's far from it," said Cross, who in his second year has posted a 10-37 record at UT. "I just think that our guys are young, and we're facing older guys. We are still trying to figure things out, and this is their first go-around against a league opponent. We're going to take some lumps, but then again we're going to turn around and smack some people. I think we'll surprise some people every once in a while."
Cross has often used the analogy of being on a rollercoaster to describe what it's like coaching a squad with no seniors and nine freshmen.
Asked yesterday where he's currently at on the ride, Cross said: "I think we're going through one of those dark tunnels right now. But we're going to come out of the dark tunnel. We're going to hit a high point, and then we'll hit another low point at some point in time. I'll well aware of that."
From the very tipoff yesterday, Central Michigan looked more seasoned, more polished, and more energized.
Sophomore center Ian Salter converted on an offensive rebound putback to open the scoring 1:39 into the game, giving UT its first and only lead.
The Chippewas (6-7, 1-0) surged out front with an 8-0 run and led 24-12 with 5:28 left in the first half.
"This was a tough game, because we had three really good days of practice [leading up to yesterday's contest]," UT sophomore point guard Larry Bastfield said. "We came out kind of flat."
Bolstered by four 3-pointers from senior guard Robbie Harman (17 points), Central Michigan took a 29-20 lead into halftime.
The Chippewas were also aided by the Rockets' lackluster first half, which saw them post more than twice as many turnovers (12) as field goals (five).
Central Michigan also grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, nearly as many as UT's entire rebounding total of 11.
"Shooting is definitely something we need to improve upon," said freshman guard Jake Barnett, who led UT with 19 points. "But at the same time, though, if we turn the ball over, that cuts down on our attempts to get shots. They [also] outrebounded us tonight [34-24], and that gave them second opportunities for shots."
Junior forward Mouhamed Lo added 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds for UT.
Senior guard Jordan Bitzer scored 12 of his 15 points after halftime to join Harman in double figures for the Chippewas, who led by as many as 20 with 3:25 to play.
"We're a family, and we pick each other up," Barnett said. "We're not going to stop fighting. Most families or teams might break apart, but I think we're just going to come together. I know we're going to come together here. That's it. I don't think there's anyone that's against us. I think we're all on the same train. It's tough when you lose, but we have to keep fighting, and we have to keep going."
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