UT works at polishing glass

Rockets have rare advantage in rebounding margin

Toledo’s J.D. Weatherspoon grabs a rebound against Florida A&M. The Rockets are outrebounding foes 35.8-30.4 this season.
Toledo’s J.D. Weatherspoon grabs a rebound against Florida A&M. The Rockets are outrebounding foes 35.8-30.4 this season.

The basketball team from the Glass City has long attacked the glass with the enthusiasm of a person being instructed to walk over broken glass.

The last time the University of Toledo ended a season with a plus rebounding margin, Jordan Lauf was 8 years old and J.D. Weatherspoon 10. The season was 2001-02, with those Rockets holding a slim plus-0.5 advantage on the boards.

“Dang,” said Weatherspoon, the team’s leading rebounder. “That is a long time.”

In this season of changing perceptions and results, the Rockets are developing a persona as a physical team, one willing and able at last to battle to control missed shots. The latest effort, a decisive 44-25 advantage on the boards Tuesday against Arkansas State, marked Toledo’s best rebounding differential in 13 seasons.

This season the Rockets boast a plus-5.4 margin, tied for second highest in the Mid-American Conference. Toledo, which looks to move to 11-0 today at home against Cleveland State, has outrebounded five opponents, tied two others, and fell short in the three games prior to Tuesday’s 78-65 triumph at Arkansas State.

The Rockets are outrebounding opponents 35.8 to 30.4.

“I think we’re still inconsistent with it,” coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We’ll go through stretches in the course of a game when we don’t hit and pursue like we need to. But on the whole for a season, am I happy with it? Yes. I just want more consistency.”

Kowalczyk’s first three teams at Toledo finished, in order, minus-3.7, minus-1.1, and minus-3.4. Most glaring was a lack of size and skill in the frontcourt, making 6-foot-4 wing Rian Pearson the team’s leading rebounder the past two seasons.

Pearson is averaging a pedestrian 4.9 boards this season, off his 6.8 pace from last season and way off his 8.3 clip from his sophomore season.

There are three reasons for the more recent drop-off: Weatherspoon, Justin Drummond, and Lauf. The first-year Rockets rebound well for their size and positions, contributing to a collaborative team effort in which five players average more than four rebounds with none higher than Weatherspoon’s 5.5. All but one MAC team — Kent State — has a player with rebounding totals better than Weatherspoon’s.

“We thrive on that to get the offense going,” said Weatherspoon, whose springy legs allow him to play taller than his 6-foot-6 frame.

The 6-4 Drummond matches center Nathan Boothe with 4.6 boards, a nice spike from the 3.9 Drummond averaged in his final season at Loyola (Md.).

Lauf, the 6-5 freshman from Napoleon, leads the team with 16 offensive rebounds despite logging the seventh most minutes. A basketball player with a football mindset, Lauf pulled down eight rebounds — including three offensive — in 19 minutes against Arkansas State.

“Just have to read the shot when it’s up and try to locate where it’s going to hit on the rim,” said Lauf, who averages 4.1 boards. “It’s a little bit studying throughout practice.”

STAT CHANGE: A stat change gives Toledo 14 assists in Tuesday’s game at Arkansas State, up from the five previously reported. Point guard Julius Brown benefited most from the change, getting three additional assists to raise his total to six.

Weatherspoon’s total increased to four from two. Pearson, who initially was given zero assists, gets three.

Sports information directors at both schools acknowledged the error and agreed to the corrections.

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