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Published: Saturday, 12/14/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

Rockets have bull’s-eye on back

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Kowalczyk Kowalczyk
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Though they may be unbeaten, the University of Toledo basketball team is not untested.

The Rockets, who will put their 8-0 record on the line today at home against Sam Houston State, have been absorbing stiff blows from opponents’ top players, a trend that began in the exhibition season with Hillsdale’s Tim Dezelski erupting for 29 points in Toledo’s overtime win.

In eight regular season games, Toledo has been burned seven times by an opposing player getting hot and scoring 20 or more points, which can be attributed to suspect defense but also perhaps to an expanding target on the Rockets.

The latest win, an 80-77 decision last Saturday at Robert Morris, saw Colonials marksmen Karvel Anderson (23 points) and Lucky Jones (25) both reach the threshold.

“There’s no question we’re getting everybody’s best shot right now,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We’re one of three undefeated mid-major teams in the country. Don’t think other teams don’t know it. You’d like to think when you’re a good program those things happen.”

Entering the weekend, Toledo was among 14 unbeatens nationally. The Rockets received one vote in the latest Associated Press poll and ranked seventh in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25.

With five shooters making at least 40 percent of their 3-point field-goals, Sam Houston State (7-3) boasts a multitude of weapons capable of joining a growing list of opponents who have gone off on Toledo. A rare afternoon matchup at Savage Arena starts at 1 p.m.

Northwestern Ohio’s Johnny Elliott, who is averaging 18.1 points, scored 21 against the Rockets. Stony Brook’s Anthony Jackson (16.4) went berserk with 36 points, while his teammate, Jameel Warney (16.9), contributed a more common-like 17 points. Detroit’s Juwan Howard, Jr., (23), and Evan Bruinsma (25) got after Toledo in separate games. Florida Atlantic’s Pablo Bertone scored 29 points, nine more than his average.

In the only games a player didn’t post 20 points, Florida A&M’s Jamie Adams and Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan scored 18 a piece.

“When you play against guys who are good players, if you let them get going early in the game, the basket just becomes that much bigger and they gain confidence,” Kowalczyk said. “We have to eliminate that confidence early in games.”

UT’s Rian Pearson did that, Kowalczyk said, in the second game against Detroit when he held Howard scoreless in the first half. Howard, who is averaging 16.9 points, finished with nine.

Sam Houston State (7-3) features two double-digit scorers, guards Jabari Peters (13.8 points) and Kaheem Ransom (11.8). Peters has attempted an astounding 78 free throws, while his former junior college teammate Ransom is among five Bearkats with 13 or more 3-pointers.

“When teams give us their best shot it’s making us better because it’s making us play at a higher standard,” UT guard Julius Brown said.

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



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