And this is how it ends for the Lower Eight. The last one standing, by a combination of skill and fortunate scheduling, is the Toledo Rockets, a team whose bugaboo all year has been lack of depth. On their third game in four days, the fatigue was way too evident and you could say OHIO coasted to victory — and with some of the flashy passes, they may have known that too.
It was nothing of a wonderful sight to watch in the first half. A couple of pretty layups here and there but really awful shooting by both teams. Toledo got into early foul trouble, with OHIO into the bonus by the 10-minute mark. One thing you don't want to do in low scoring games is foul the other team a bunch.
A day after his documentary aired on the campus TV channel, DJ Cooper sounded off for 18 points, five assists and five rebounds. Not much in the department of quality shot selection or turnovers, but what else is new? Reggie Keely and Walter Offutt gave the Bobcats 13 apiece and while Ivo Baltic only had two points and nine rebounds, it was his defense of Rian Pearson, a great decision by John Groce, which was his big contribution.
Pearson was held to eight points and committed four turnovers while Juice Brown didn't have a great game either, leaving it to the wing players. Curtis Dennis shot 4-for-7 from threes to give them 17 points, while Reese Holliday played inside and out for 12 points and seven rebounds. It was a spirited effort but it seemed evident about five minutes into the second half who'd take this one.
And we are left with the following seeds in the tournament: 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3. Just the way Dr. Steinbrecher drew it up. The regular season teams are rewarded and the Lower Eight fight their way into the quarterfinals and bow out gracefully. Suddenly the Friday night games are aglitter with big names, familiar faces and promise of a threat in the first round of the NCAAs.
As for Toledo, no real shame in this season — in fact I'm sure 99 percent of Rockets fans are going to bed tonight feeling really happy. FINALLY, a decent team. From 4-28 to 18-16 with zero seniors and two juniors? That's quite a leap. But they need more people to contribute. Basically coach Tod Kowalczyk had to lean on six players to go between 20 to 40 minutes. As long as half the team doesn't transfer away, as has happened in the last few years, they'll be fine.