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Published: Tuesday, 1/26/2010

University of Toledo coach hopes slow, easy wins the race

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Fielding Yost's "point a minute" offense from the early 1900s holds a special place in University of Michigan lore.

More than 100 years later, the University of Toledo is developing its own version of the "point a minute" offense, but it's being played on the hardwood instead of the gridiron.

The Rockets have failed to surpass the 60-point barrier in nine straight games - all losses - including their most recent 73-41 setback at Western Michigan on Saturday.

The 41 points were a season-low for UT (3-16, 0-5 Mid-American Conference) and marked the sixth time this season the Rockets scored 50 points or fewer.

Entering Tuesday night's contest against Kent State (12-7, 3-2) at Savage Arena, UT is averaging a conference-worst 49 points per game in MAC play while the Flashes are scoring a league-best 72.2 points per game.

To combat these issues, UT coach Gene Cross has been trying to slow down the Rockets' offensive pace, so that they value each possession and get good looks at the basket instead of firing up a shot as soon as they get the ball.

"Whenever you're younger, you want everything right away," Cross said yesterday. "You want to grow up yesterday, you want to be done with school. I've told our guys we need to be more deliberate and disciplined with the basketball."

Several times in Sunday and yesterday's practice, Cross stopped his players and made them literally walk the ball up the floor and walk-through the offense.

"It helps you survey the floor and see what's going on," Cross said. "It gives you time to let things develop. That's how we're going to have to play it."

Cross admits he was hesitant at first to restrain his team, but the recent offensive inefficiency left him no choice.

"I didn't want to put the reins on them because I didn't want to stifle them," Cross said. "But with a young group - they're like young colts bucking all over the place - maybe you have to stifle them a little bit. And not stifle, so to speak, but just tame them before they understand what they have in front of them."

Cross said many of his players are rushing offensively and pressing to score points, including Jake Barnett.

The freshman guard had a season-low two points against Western Michigan, and he agreed the Rockets' offensive tempo was becoming a detriment to their efforts.

"It's so defeating for you to come down and miss a shot early in the shot clock and have them come down and get a bucket," Barnett said. "We have to make sure that we are slowing it down, and I think that will equal more points."

The continued emergence of Josh Freelove should also fortify the Rockets' offensive efforts.

The freshman guard has averaging 10.5 points per game in his last two outings, and has become another option for UT with Barnett and freshman guard Malcolm Griffin.

"I see myself as a scorer," Freelove said. "Jake is a terrific 3-point shooter, Malcolm is a terrific driver, and I see myself in the middle of all that. I just want to get in, do my time, start fast-breaks, try to be aggressive on defense, and just go after it."

Individual play aside, Freelove has one over-arching goal that motivates everything he does as UT's budding offensive threat.

"I'll do anything for the team just to get a win," Freelove said. "That's what the team needs, so if I have to play that role then that's fine. As long as we get a win."

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com.



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