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Inma Zanoguera saw what happened when her team came out poised and cool. The Toledo women’s basketball team raced to a double-digit lead at halftime and appeared ready to dominate in the second half.
Then she saw what happened when her team let off the gas in the second half of a 73-71 win over Northern Illinois, and the junior forward summed up what the Rockets need to do to produce a consistent effort through the course of a full game.
“We just need to keep calm,” Zanoguera said. “When we have one mistake or two, then it just goes down and then all hell breaks loose. We just need to keep working and understand that even though we’re tired and even though we may have screwed up the play before, we just need to be playing hard, no matter what.”
Thursday at Savage Arena, the Rockets utilized a first-half double-digit run and then maintained a lead of at least 10 points through most of the second half. That changed in the game’s final minutes.
Toledo led 69-60 with 3:34 left but the Huskies whittled UT’s lead down to two after Allie Lehman’s jumper with 1:10 left in regulation.
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Andola Dortch (17 points) hit an off-balance jumper with 57.7 seconds left gave the Rockets a 73-68 lead, and after Natecia Augusta’s 3-point play cut the lead to 73-70 20 seconds later, Danny Pulliam’s layup for NIU bounced off the rim with one second left.
“There’s nothing worse than when you’ve got a big lead and a team comes back in,” UT coach Tricia Cullop said.
“Nerves are starting to get to you, you’re beating yourself up, and it’s hard to make plays. I thought we made some very poor decisions late, and that’s why they got back in.”
The Rockets (6-7, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) ended a three-game losing streak and left the floor with their first win since Dec. 15. But they couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling that came with not putting forth a consistent effort.
“We came out from the gate really playing,” Zanoguera said. “We showed up, everybody was invested, and we pulled out a really good first half. But right now, we’re a team of halves.
“The last game, it cost us. Today, we were able to still come out with a win, but we need to do a better job at starting strong and finishing strong. It’s a 40-minute game, and we’re really going to have to work hard on that.”
Elena de Alfredo’s 3-pointer less than four minutes into the first half kicked off a 22-5 run for the Rockets, which was boosted by Brianna Jones’ presence in the paint.
Jones scored 10 of her 12 points in the first half to help Toledo take a 40-26 lead at the half.
UT stretched its lead to 18 midway through the second half until Amanda Corral (20 points) kicked off NIU’s final run by hitting a shot with 3:25 left, which brought the Huskies (5-7, 1-1) within two with less than 40 seconds left.
“In tight games like this, they showed a lot of guts,” said Jones, who has scored in double figures in seven straight games.
“I’m proud of my teammates for pulling this one out. We have to maintain the lead that we had and continue to roll with the punches.”