If you told Toledo Rockets fans that their team's first loss would come on Dec. 30 against the No. 16 Kansas Jayhawks, most of them would be pretty happy with that prediction. Toledo's hopes of an undefeated season lasted longer than all but seven teams in the country, coming to an end Monday night at the hands of Kansas and their bevy of first-round NBA Draft picks.
Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid led a dominating effort on the boards, grabbing 11 and 10 rebounds respectively, and in the paint that gave Kansas the edge it needed to grab its ninth win of the season. The Jayhawks out-rebounded the Rockets 44-28 overall and 18-13 on the offensive glass. Nathan Boothe and Zach Garber each struggled with foul trouble throughout the game, leaving Toledo with few options of how to defend the interior.
Even so, Boothe ended the game as Toledo's leading scorer with 15 points, posting a 7-for-13 performance from the field that included his first three-pointer of the season. J.D. Weatherspoon and Justin Drummond each scored 13 points, while Rian Pearson added 10 points of his own. The Rockets bench had itself a decent night, buoyed by a very good performance by reserve guard Jordan Lauf and his eight points.
Unfortunately, Toledo's bench advantage (23-6) couldn't make up for the unexpected scoring punch of Naadir Tharpe (career-high 20 points) and steady consistency of Andrew Wiggins (20 points) in Kansas' starting lineup. Bill Self's starting group logged a ton of minutes, but their ability to keep the lead between nine and 15 points kept Toledo from ever seriously posing a threat to its hosts.
The Rockets did prove that they truly can play with anyone in the country, however. This was their first test against a team in the RPI Top 100 and they hung around for the entire game, even giving some hope they might go on one of those underdog tears that punctuate every upset. They never backed down, kept coming right back at the more-talented Jayhawks, and in the end came away with the closest thing to a signature loss as there is in college basketball.
The MAC season will be interesting to watch for these Rockets. On the one hand they could roll through the conference if they play to their capability, but in a game as cruel as basketball its hard to imagine that happening every game. The Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Akron and Ohio games all promise to be must-watch television, however, and I can't wait to see how they play out.
Good on you, Toledo. You took Kansas' best punch and only lost by 10. Let's see some of the big boys do that, too.
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