BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge
A hard collision before halftime sent Jordan Lauf to the locker room, robbing the University of Toledo freshman of seeing a teammate hit a circus shot at the buzzer.
A second collision robbed Lauf of seeing much of anything at all.
Lauf, the scrappy forward from Napoleon, walked into the postgame news conference following a 79-69 win Monday over Florida A&M with a shiner extending a couple inches below his left eye.
“I couldn’t tell you what play it happened on,” he said.
There are several candidates.
PHOTO GALLERY: Florida A&M vs. Toledo
It might have occurred with 5:18 remaining when Lauf stripped point guard Jamie Adams to force a jump ball and give Toledo possession and a five-point lead.
Or perhaps it came a couple minutes later when Lauf closed fast to force an Adams air ball before diving onto the floor and tapping the loose ball ahead to a teammate. Justin Drummond finished the flurry with a fast-break dunk for a 71-60 lead.
Weeks into a career filled with great expectations from the local community, Lauf is showing signs of being the type of player fans around here — or anywhere else, for that matter — willingly get out of their seats to applaud. He played a modest 15 minutes but with most of them dedicated to the unenviable task of guarding the slippery Adams, a 5-10 shake-and-bake-style point guard who drained five 3s in the first half and zero from that point forward.
At one stoppage in play late in the game Adams sought out Lauf and tapped him on the chest as he spoke words that appeared to be delivered in a complimentary tone.
BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge
“My job is to come in and play hard for as many minutes as I can,” said Lauf, who scored one point and grabbed four offensive rebounds. “Whenever I need a break I’ll come out and get a breather and go back in and play my hardest. That’s what I’ve always been taught to do. That’s how I’ll get minutes.”
A scary sight unfolded with three seconds left before halftime. Lauf ran hard into a screener and crumbled to the floor, not getting up for 30 seconds. Lauf revealed after the game he felt pain in his neck and shoulders after the collision but that he was not dizzy — a good sign considering Lauf suffered a concussion during a preseason practice.
From the locker room, Lauf was unable to see an improbable shot by Rian Pearson. Pearson took the inbound from half court, dribbled a few times, and was forced to rush an off-balanced 3 that caromed off the glass and in as the horn sounded. That make, Pearson’s second 3 of the half, gave Toledo (3-0) a 42-40 lead and restored confidence after an ugly first half riddled with as many turnovers — nine — as the Rockets are accustomed to committing in entire games.
“If we were down going into half we would have been more concerned about our team toughness and defense,” said Pearson, who matched Julius Brown with a team-high 18 points.
Brown added 11 assists for a second straight double-double.
Kowalczyk praised Pearson for turning a bad game — Kowalczyk graded his senior a two or three out of 10 in the first half — into a “six or seven.”
Pearson in one second-half surge assisted to Drummond (16 points) on a 3-on-1 opportunity, got to the free-throw line, and drew a charge, the latter eliciting a high-five from his coach.
“He’s the king — maybe the best I’ve ever been around — of taking a bad game and making it into an average game,” Kowalczyk said.
Lauf may prove to have a similar effect, reducing an opponent’s stellar night into something ordinary. Adams (18 points) couldn’t shoot and couldn’t create against his blue collar counterpart.
“I love him,” Kowalczyk said of Lauf. “He’s maybe the toughest kid I’ve been around. He’s the ultimate team guy. He does the right things, says the right things, acts the right way. Just glad to get the chance to coach him for four years.”
The Rockets play Stony Brook at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the 2K Sports Classic at the University of Detroit.