Streak Snapped as Rockets Blast Bobcats

Sam Towns
Ohio forward Sam Towns (center) claims a rebound during the Bobcats’ home loss on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022 against Toledo in the Convocation Center. Photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics/Tanner Pearson

The Convo was rocking like it hasn’t in ages. That’s a good thing.

But visiting Toledo didn’t care. The Rockets cut through the noise, and cut down the Bobcats’ nine-game winning streak with a decisive 87-69 victory in front of a season’s best crowd of 8,069 on Friday night in the Roundhouse on Richland. 

The Rockets (15-4, 7-1 Mid-American Conference) dominated from the start with an offense that was firing on all cylinders and sliced away many of the layers of Ohio’s impressive (to this point) resume. Toledo has won six straight overall, claimed 9 of the last 12 against OU, and picked up an impressive five straight wins in the Convo.

Gone now are Ohio’s winning streak, perfect home record (9-1), and unblemished mark in conference play (5-1). The Bobcats (14-3) now sit a full game behind Toledo in the MAC race for the regular season championship.

With the game decided, and the Rockets celebrating profusely after a fast-break dunk with just under a minute left, Ohio coach Jeff Boals called a time out. He began damage control then, even as Toledo players chest-bumped their way to their own bench.

“I just told them one game isn’t going to define them,” Boals said. “We’re going to win with class and lose with class. 

“I know our leadership will make sure we’re ready to play on Tuesday.”

Ohio will be eager to put this one behind them. The Bobcats’ only lead of the night came at 5-3, and lasted all of 20 seconds. The Rockets led by as many as 17 points in the first half, took a 16-point lead into halftime, and nudged it up to 18 early in the second.

Ohio revved up the crowd with a spirited comeback in the second half that cut the margin down to just six points on three different occasions, but never got back to even. Even powered by a fevered crowd – Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk called it the best he’s seen in the MAC in his 12 years – Ohio couldn’t completely erase the 20 dismal minutes of the first half.

“We just hit that wall,” Boals said.

Toledo was powered by Ryan Rollins, who turned in an MVP-caliber performance with 26 points, six rebounds and five assists on just 16 shots. Backcourt mate RayJ Dennis was nearly as effective with 18 points on 14 shots. The Rockets shot 59 percent overall, as both Setric Millner Jr. (17 points) and JT Shumate (12) turned in clutch buckets as well.

Jason Carter led Ohio with 19 points and seven rebounds, but couldn’t finish. Racked by severe leg cramps, Carter left the floor with 5:33 remaining and the Bobcats trailing 73-65. Toledo closed it out with a 14-4 run.

Ben Vander Plas had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Mark Sears added 14 points. Sears struggled, particularly in the first half when he had just 3 points and four turnovers; his seven turnovers were a season high.

“He got a little frustrated,” Boals said. “He’s been really good for us all season and a huge reason why we have 14 wins. But he’s still learning and seeing things he hasn’t before. He still has lots of room for growth.”

Toledo opened the game by hitting 9 of its first 13 shots and raced out to a 25-14 lead before the game was eight minutes old. While Ohio labored to a 3 of 15 shooting effort from 3 in the first half, the Rockets knocked in contested jumpers, spaced the floor and attacked open stretches of floor space. Dennis’ 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Toledo a 41–24 lead late in the first half.

The Rockets led 45-29 at the break; it was the most points allowed in a first half all season, and tied OU’s largest halftime deficit of the year (at Kentucky).

“We just didn’t play Ohio basketball,” said OU guard Miles Brown. “Usually we’re on the other end of that.”

Vander Plas acknowledged Ohio hasn’t seen many deficits this season and said the Bobcats gave themselves little chance of win due to that first half. 

“It’s hard to win games when you end the first half like that,” he said.

Ohio rallied in the second half, playing with desperation and a force the first half lacked. Carter drew a pair of charges. Sears converted a 3-point play through a trio of Toledo defenders. Vander Plas picked up a steal, and finished it with a dunk at the other end. 

Sam Towns scored off an offensive rebound to pull Ohio to within six, then did it again 90 seconds later to make it 67-61.

Dennis hit a pair of jumpers in the lane to stave off the run. But Carter bagged a corner 3 with just under seven minutes left to pull Ohio to within 71-65. The Convo roared in approval. 

But it was as close as the Bobcats would get. Carter left the game a minute later (he later said he thought he’d be fine moving forward), and Ohio faded. After Carter’s 3-pointer, Toledo scored 16 of the next 18 points to put it away.

“They were more aggressive than us,” Vander Plas said. “We kind of settled for some jumpers in the first half.”

Boals agreed. Ohio got back into the game with tenacity and attacking the bucket. Both were lacking as Toledo’s background did whatever it wanted in the first half.

“In the second half, we did what we wanted to do in the first half,” Boals said.

Ohio played without freshman forward A.J. Clayton (COVID protocol) – “he would’ve helped tonight,” Boals said. But fellow freshmen IJ Ezuma and Olumide Adelodun were back after missing Tuesday’s win at Miami.

Ohio returns to play on Tuesday with a home game against Northern Illinois.  

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