DETROIT — The disk that records the tale of this basketball season is scratched.
On Wednesday it again repeated a phrase that is getting to be redundant just one month into the year: The University of Toledo men’s team played hard on the road. Played with energy. Played well enough to win. And lost.
A string of road defeats to begin the season swelled to six at Detroit, with a rash of turnovers, failed defensive stops, and a technical foul by the coach planting the seeds for a 79-73 setback.
As it approaches the finish line in a daunting early schedule, Toledo’s trophy case is overflowing with moral victories but only two legitimate ones.
This marks the fourth time the Rockets (2-6) led in the second half on someone else’s floor before withering away, which they did at Calihan Hall in impressive speed after expanding their lead to six with about 11 minutes to go.
The Titans followed with a 22-3 run, dazzling an audience of 1,552 with alley-oop dunks and 3-pointers.
The worst-case scenario in this stretch of eight of nine road games is coming to fruition, with the gauntlet coming to an end Saturday in a tilt at 3-7 Eastern Illinois.
Coach Tod Kowalczyk, whose technical foul for arguing a call assisted in the outcome slipping away, was concerned about his team’s confidence a couple of weeks ago, and those fears have not dissipated.
"I’m always worried," Kowalczyk said. "That’s what coaches do, we worry. Am I worried about our confidence? Yeah. We’re playing hard. We’re playing well enough to win. Look at the schedule, we’re not playing against teams that aren’t very good.
"Am I disappointed? Yeah. Am I alarmed? Absolutely not. Not even close."
Detroit, an NCAA tournament qualifier last season, won its 11th straight home game and improved to 3-4 overall. Like Cleveland State, another Horizon League team that beat Toledo on Saturday, the Titans knocked down 12 3-pointers. Four came by Juwan Howard, Jr., a 33 percent shooter from long range and the only Titan starter not averaging double figures in scoring.
"We have to do a better job than that," Kowalczyk said.
Toledo, which opened the game on an 8-0 run, shot 45 percent from the field but turned the ball over 18 times. Julius Brown recovered from a bad game Saturday to pour in a team-high 20 points, and Rian Pearson and Matt Smith contributed 19 and 15, respectively. Smith could not miss early from 3, hitting on three straight possessions as he and Howard — neither known for his long-distance prowess — tried to one-up the other.
Two calls, both of which factored heavily in the outcome, drew the ire of Kowalczyk. The first came with less than nine minutes to go and his team up 56-55 when Nathan Boothe was hacked twice going up for a shot. Boothe, irate over the noncall, reacted angrily and nearly clotheslined a Titan, picking up his fourth foul.
"He clearly got fouled," Kowalczyk said.
Two minutes later, Kowalczyk was assessed a technical — and it was a biggie.
Brown was whistled for a foul on Jason Calliste’s made lay up, putting the Titans ahead — for the moment — 63-57. A three-point play soon turned into a five-point play after Kowalczyk challenged an official whom did not call a foul against Detroit on a contact play Kowalczyk deemed similar to Brown’s at the other end.
"It was an awful call," said Kowalczyk, who insisted he did not use any questionable language. "He’s 40 feet from me, I don’t know how he heard it. I just said it was the same call, and it was the same call. [The technical] was an unprofessional call."
The fun was about to begin for the Titans. Ray McCallum, a likely future NBA player, fed an alley-oop to Doug Anderson from 25 feet away.
Moments later Anderson unleashed a vicious dunk after McCallum blew a layup. The gap expanded to 15 points with about four minutes left when Calliste (24 points) found Anderson for another dunk.
"We weren’t getting back in transition and were letting them do what they wanted to do and just not having the confidence on the defensive end," Pearson said.
Pearson led a strong defensive effort against McCallum, who came into the night averaging 21.2 points but scored just seven on 3 of 11 shooting.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6160 or onTwitter @AutulloBlade.