OXFORD, Ohio — Tod Kowalczyk’s University of Toledo basketball team upped its win streak to six, seized a two-game lead in its division, and dropped a wet blanket over the smoldering Miami RedHawks.
Happy times Wednesday? Not hardly.
Want to upset the Rockets coach? Be careless with the ball. His team was pretty good at that, registering 21 turnovers in an otherwise complaint-free 83-70 victory at a mostly empty Millett Hall.
Not since the final game of his forgettable first season has a Kowalczyk team turned the ball over this many times. That team, which won four games, was perhaps the worst in the Mid-American Conference that season.
This year’s team might be the MAC’s best, though they did not look the part for large stretches of their 20th game, particularly with a big lead at the end.
In the final six-plus minutes, Toledo (18-2, 6-2) threw away seven possessions against Miami’s attacking press, watching an 18-point lead shrink to 10. In one rare instance the Rockets maintained control of a possession, J.D. Weatherspoon hung on the rim after a dunk and incurred a technical foul.
“I have high expectations for our players and for our program,” Kowalczyk said. “I have high expectations of how we can play the game the right way. Tonight, we didn’t do that.”
Although Kowalczyk stressed the carelessness “wasn’t any one guy,” much of the onus falls on point guard Julius Brown, who gave the ball away nine times. In a statistic that doesn’t defies reasoning, Brown had eight assists and yet turned in a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Chalk this one up to an anomaly, as the Rockets are normally vigilant with the ball, leading the MAC in fewest turnovers.
“It’s a long season and it’s a journey, and obviously you need to get as many wins as you can, but also, are you getting better?” Kowalczyk said. “This program has, and this team has this year. Tonight we didn’t for whatever reason.”
They did win, something Western Michigan did not do at Buffalo, meaning the Rockets have a two-game lead in the West division heading into a big match up Saturday at Ohio.
Miami, which entered the day looking to stay within one game of overall MAC leaders Toledo and Akron, snapped a three-game win streak. It was Toledo’s fourth win in a row over the RedHawks, who are rebuilding with a nice collection of athletic guards under second year coach John Cooper. Their undoing Wednesday is one of their strengths — outside shooting. Miami, the MAC’s top 3-point shooting team in league play, missed 16 of 17 from beyond the arc.
Geovonie McKnight led Miami (8-10, 4-3) with 18 points.
Toledo made its first five shots after halftime, the last two coming on 3s by Justin Drummond to expand a four-point lead at the break to 13. Drummond led the Rockets in scoring for the third straight game, recording his second double-double in that span with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“I just have to come out and play hard,” Drummond said. “One way I focus on playing hard is crashing the boards. That’s what gets me going.”
Nathan Boothe added 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting, and Weatherspoon contributed 13 points and six rebounds. Matt Smith had 10 points — his first 10 points of the MAC season.
HONORING FIREFIGHTERS: Toledo’s coaches and support staff members wore lapel pins recognizing Toledo firefighters Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman who were killed Sunday responding to a burning apartment building in North Toledo. They plan to wear them all season.
Women’s coach Tricia Cullop and her staff will wear pins at today’s game against Akron.
HALL COMMITS: UT received a commitment Wednesday from Chicago power forward Kurt Hall. Hall, of North Chicago High, is 6-foot-6 and is expected to sign with the Rockets in the spring. Hall accounts for UT’s final scholarship.