Ohio’s defense shattered in loss at Toledo

Over the last decade, the Bobcats have had a lot of tough nights with Toledo.

Add another one to the pile.

The Rockets hit early, and often, and thoroughly worked over visiting Ohio for a 95-78 win on Friday night at Savage Arena. Toledo (10-3, 5-0 Mid-American Conference) maintained its hold atop the MAC, won its seventh straight game, and has pocketed eight of the last 10 meetings with Ohio (6-5, 2-3 MAC).

Dwight Wilson III (left) and Ben Vander Plas combined for 27 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough in a loss on Jan. 8, 2021 at Toledo (95-78). Photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics/Colin Mayr

The Rockets trailed just once, at 3-0, and led by double figures virtually every second over the final 28 minutes. Toledo’s lead hit 21 points in the first half, and crested at 25 points (93-68) with 1:57 left before OU’s 7-0 finish attempted to shine up an ugly road outing.

“Give them a lot of credit, they’re a great team,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said in a postgame radio interview. “A lot of it was them, and a lot of it was us.”

Toledo – much like Marshall, Akron and Bowling Green did in December – did whatever it wanted to offensively. Six Rockets hit double figures, including all five starters, as UT shot 61.8 percent overall. Toledo led 48-32 at the halftime break after shooting 60 percent overall, AND from 3-point range (9 of 15).

“This had that Akron feel to it,” Boals said. “They dictated the game to us at both ends of the floor.”

Marreon Jackson improved to 5-0 against OU after leading Toledo with 18 points, six rebounds and six assists. He scored 13 in the first half, and backcourt partner Spencer Littleson added 14 points – with all of them also coming in the first 20 minutes.

Ryan Rollins (16 point) Setric Millner Jr. (13) and Keshaun Saunders (11) all also hit double figures. J.T. Shumate, a Division II transfer, played like Shaq against Ohio’s bigger front line as he posted 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting with four blocked shots.

Shumate, listed at 6-foot-7, threw down four dunks. The Rockets rubbed the Bobcats’ nose in it late with five dunks inside the final 10 minutes alone.

Freshman point guard Mark Sears posted a career-high 20 points with five assists and one turnover in his fourth straight start. But foul trouble cost him key minutes in both halves as starter Jason Preston sat out his fourth straight game with a lower body injury.

“He’s the one guy tonight who played and competed tonight,” Boals said.

Dwight Wilson III hit 75 percent of his shots, but only took eight, and finished with 13 points. Outside of Sears and Wilson, Ohio shot a collective 31.3 percent overall.

Ben Vander Plas added 14 points and six rebounds for OU, and Miles Brown had 10 points – just the second double-digit game of his career – off the bench.

Ohio’s high point came on the first possession when Ben Roderick drilled a right-side 3-pointer on the first possession. The Bobcats then missed 10 of their next 13 long-range shots.

Toledo broke a 6-6 tie with an 11-0 run for its first double-digit lead of the night. The finale of the surge came when Boals exploded on the sideline on a blocking call on Vander Plas. He was tagged with a technical foul with 13:55 left, Jackson hit one of two free throws and OU was left climbing uphill the rest of the way.

The ‘Cats got as close as 17-14 on Wilson’s bucket with 11:14 left in the half, but back-to-back triples from Jackson and Millner capped a 14-4 run that extended the lead out to 31-18.

Another Toledo run, 16-4 with Littleson finishing with a pull-up jumper, made it 47-26 with 95 seconds left in the half.

Ohio got the margin down to 9, at 60-51 with 13:46 remaining, on Brown’s cutting layup. But the Rockets fired back with a 13-4 spurt and pulled away from there with Shumate dunks punctuating the final 10 minutes.

The offense came free and easy for Toledo. Ohio’s pressure on the ball, attention to cutters, and closeouts were all lacking.

“For 40 minutes…we did not have that,” Boals said.

Boals expressed some optimism that Preston – the team’s leading scorer and passer – could return Tuesday when Ohio takes on Miami in the Convocation Center.

But until the Bobcats show more toughness on the defensive end, it’s hard to see them being a contender for the MAC regular-season title. Toledo held a slight rebounding edge (30-28), outscored OU in the paint (40-36) and averaged 1.319 points per possession.

Ohio trails Toledo by three full games for the top spot, and will need to start stacking wins to make sure it even makes the postseason tournament field. Only the top eight teams this season will qualify for the MAC Tournament.

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