KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Josh Lemons laid in agony on the floor at University Arena, the frightening aftermath of the University of Toledo guard running squarely into the shoulder of a Western Michigan screener.
The scene was appropriate imagery on an evening in which the Rockets were beaten and bloodied in a gruesome 79-56 loss that was every bit the annihilation the final margin indicates.
Lemons, who never returned after that collision in the first half, is expected to be fine. So too might his teammates, although suffering a 23-point beatdown is not a desirable prelude to back-to-back contests against the top teams in the Mid-American Conference.
The Rockets, who were trying to win consecutive league road games for the first time since 2006-07, will visit defending tournament champion Ohio on Saturday before hosting an excellent Akron squad next Wednesday.
"We definitely need to refocus after this game," said Julius Brown, who scored 16 points and was the only Rocket that played well.
Brown and his coach, Tod Kowalczyk, offered a common eeeeeeeeesentiment: Competitive spirit was lacking, a notion supported by several lines of the stat sheet.
A sampling: The Rockets (6-8, 2-1) were outrebounded 44-26 and allowed 16 offensive boards. Their 19 first-half points are the fewest in any half this year. Rian Pearson, with eight points, did not crack double-digits for the first time since the season opener, and Kowalczyk bemoaned his star’s "lifeless" body language. Guard Dominique Buckley went scoreless for the first 36 minutes and picked up four fouls in that time. Also, power forward Matt Smith logged 26 minutes and did not secure a rebound.
"I asked him before the game to give us 10," Kowalczyk said. "He didn’t want to do it tonight. We need more out of Matt Smith on a consistent basis."
Kowalczyk pulled Smith aside for a minute or two after the game, perhaps impugning Smith’s desire.
WMU (9-7, 1-2), which was desperate for a win after kicking off the MAC season against Akron and Ohio, received 15 points from reserve David Brown — all on 3-pointers — and 15 more from freshman forward Darius Paul. Paul, the high school teammate of Toledo freshman Nathan Boothe, got the upper hand in the battle of Gurnee, Ill. natives. In one of the few instances they weren’t assigned to someone else, Paul backed down Boothe in the paint for a lay up in the first half.
The Rockets had no counterpunch for center Shayne Whittington, who put up a monster line: 12 points, 13 rebounds, five blocked shots, three assists, and three steals. His effort helped the Broncos score about half of their points — 38 — in the paint.
"They’re a very physical team and I thought we didn’t handle their physicalness at all," Kowalczyk said.
Toledo never led and trailed by double digits for the final 30 minutes. A tip-in by Richard Wonnell cut the deficit to 12 with 12 minutes to go, but Brandon Pokley responded at the other end with a 3 in the corner.
At roughly that time Toledo rolled out a line up consisting of two centers, two power forwards, and the point guard Brown. This was not to combat WMU’s dominance inside but because there was scant options with shooting guards Buckley and Lemons relegated to the sideline.
Kowalczyk, who said he sat Lemons for precautionary reasons, suggested he believes Lemons was the victim of an illegal screen.
"I don’t think he ran into the screen as much as the screen ran into him," Kowalczyk said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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