Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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UT focuses on defense

Rockets look to slow Jones


Tod Kowalczyk shouts orders to his young Rockets during a recent game.


Something is missing here.

The University of Toledo men are the second most accurate shooting team in the Mid-American Conference in every category -- field goals, free throws, and 3-pointers. In turn, the Rockets also are second in scoring offense.

Figure out what's missing? It's this: Not one of those aforementioned statistics has anything to do with defense. For that reason, the Rockets are only 8-7 (0-1) entering a home game Tuesday evening against Ball State.

Eager to fix their team's chief deficiency, Tod Kowal-czyk and his staff spent a majority of practice Monday working with players on defensive principles. Much of the instruction was designed around stopping Ball State's Jarrod Jones, the MAC's second-leading scorer, and senior point guard Randy Davis.

It's not for lack of effort, Kowalczyk said, that his team is ranked one spot from the bottom in the MAC in points allowed per game. That suggests the issues are curable. Now Kowalczyk wants to see that energy turn into production on game night.

"It's more a lack of execution and attention to detail," Kowalczyk said. "We have to do a much better job of understanding our principles and philosophies."

The defense hasn't been lousy every time out. Kowalczyk liked what he saw last month when the Rockets held Youngstown State to 40 percent shooting in an 86-77 win. Even in a two-point home loss to Loyola, the Rockets were stingy defensively.

But the good nights thus far have been outnumbered by the not-so-good nights. Too often the Rockets have defended like they did Saturday when Central Michigan made more than half of its shots in both halves, prevailing 85-69 in both team's conference opener. Visiting UT trailed by eight in the second half on six occasions but repeatedly failed to make stops to prevent the deficit from swelling to double digits.

"I think it's inexperience and immaturity," Kowalczyk said. "We allow our offense to dictate our defense too much, meaning if somebody's not making a shot, or they turn the ball over, or they get a bad call, it affects them too much on the defensive end. Mature teams and veterans teams, they don't let the offense dictate how they defend."

If Kowalczyk needs an example of a mature, defensive-minded team for the Rockets to emulate, he doesn't need to look far. Ball State leads the MAC in points allowed per game at 57.8 -- three fewer than second best Eastern Michigan. The Cardinals (9-4, 1-0) prevailed over West preseason favorite Western Michigan 78-59 in the MAC opener Saturday.

In Jones, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, the Rockets will face the MAC's second-leading scorer at 18 points per game. His 8.4 rebounds are tied with UT's Rian Pearson for second most.

Ball State's offense primarily runs through Jones, Pearson said, so UT's objective is to be aware when he touches the ball and deny him prime position in the post.

"We have to get stops on the defensive end to even give us a chance toward the end of the game," Pearson said. "If we don't get stops at the defensive end, we don't have a chance."

BASTFIELD A VICTIM: Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman has been suspended indefinitely by the school after allegedly punching one of his players, senior Larry Bastfield -- a former UT guard -- during a game Saturday at South Carolina State, according to the Baltimore Sun. The altercation was witnessed by South Carolina State president George E. Cooper, who told campus police he thought he saw Bozeman strike Bastfield in the face. Others in the stands corroborated Cooper's story.

"They said they were told he hit me in the face," Bastfield said, according to the Sun. "I told him that he accidently bumped me in the chest. It was something that happens in the heat of the game."

Bozeman said Cooper and others making similar accusations are "completely off the charts."

This is not Bozeman's first brush with the law. In 2007, during his first season at Morgan State, he was charged with misdemeanor assault after becoming belligerent at a Virginia restaurant. Charges were later dropped when Bozeman reached an undisclosed settlement with the manager of the restaurant.

Before his hire by Morgan State, Bozeman was banned from coaching in the NCAA for eight years because of recruiting violations he committed at California. The ban came after Bozeman admitted he paid a recruit's family $30,000.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.

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