UT's Matt Smith goes to the basket against Akron's Zeke Marshall in Wednesday night's game at Savage Arena. The Rockets fell to 6-10 overall and 2-3 in the MAC.
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Tod Kowalczyk has a new favorite word, and he used it liberally to explain his team’s third straight loss.
"We didn’t have any type of grit," the University of Toledo men’s basketball coach said Wednesday. "We talk a lot about grit. I want visible grit. I want people in the stands to see it. We just didn’t have guys show that visible grit."
There was no shortage of reasons for a 71-56 beating at the merciless hands of Akron. Zips 7-footer Zeke Marshall was sensational, equaling Akron program and Savage Arena marks with nine blocked shots against the Rockets — bolstering his Mid-American Conference career record.
Marshall’s marksmen teammates caused trouble, too, and unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers in the second half to mitigate any dropoff from their big man sitting the bench for a breather.
Moreover, Toledo blew too many layups to expect to beat a team that has now won 10 in a row for the first time since 1972-73.
All of those points are worth noting, but to Kowalczyk, none represent the underlying factor — you guessed it, grit — on an evening in which his team trailed the entire way.
"We didn’t have that team grit or that team chemistry," he said. "We just weren’t happy with that in the first half."
Kowalczyk probably felt a measure of catharsis after the news conference, when he vented at length on various topics bugging him. He criticized his star player, noting that his benching of Rian Pearson to start the second half was "about being a good teammate." Kowalczyk said he was not surprised that the Rockets quickly cut a 15-point halftime deficit to eight, suggesting they "had better chemistry on the floor."
Pearson, who played just seven minutes in the second half, led the Rockets (6-10, 2-3) with 16 points and eight rebounds.
After starting the MAC season 2-0, Toledo has fallen short in earning a seat at the grown-up’s table by dropping three in a row to arguably the best three teams in the league.
Looming Saturday is a matchup against Bowling Green, which will strut into Savage Arena having just dusted Kent State by 15 points. The Rockets haven’t beaten their primary rival since the 2007-08 MAC tournament, a string of four losses.
"Am I alarmed we’re 2-3 in the league? Not the least bit," Kowalczyk said. "Am I alarmed that we didn’t compete tonight? Yeah. Yeah, I am."
Marshall’s seven first-half blocks highlighted Akron’s 15-point halftime lead.
Akron, which has 11 players who log double-digit minutes, showed off its embarrassment of depth when Marshall went to the bench for a lengthy duration in the second half. Three turnovers by the Zips’ Nick Harney planted seeds to an 8-0 UT run, which cut the deficit to eight in the first five minutes of the half.
No one for the Zips (14-4, 5-0) panicked.
Marshall, who finished with 18 points, was not summoned to the court for low-post touches. His teammates, Chauncey Gilliam and Alex Abreu, did not need him and combined for five 3-pointers during the next two minutes to repel Toledo’s scant comeback hopes.
"I think they had too many shooters out on the perimeter and it tended to slow us down a little bit," Pearson said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.