On Sunday night, Toledo learned of its bid in the 2019 NIT, receiving a 6-seed in the tournament. The Rockets wouldn’t have to travel far for their first round matchup as they drew an in-state opponent in 3-seed Xavier.
That bid would be short-lived though. After a strong showing in the first half, Toledo (25-8) failed to withstand a 20-2 run by Xavier (19-15), and the Musketeers advanced to the second round of the NIT with a 78-64 victory.
The 2019 NIT features a new rule set, with several rule changes that resemble the NBA’s style of play. These changes include a longer 3-point line, a shorter shot clock following an offense rebound, bonus resets after each quarter (10-minute mark in half), and the complete elimination of 1-and-1 free throws.
Toledo thrived initially in this new ruleset. The Rockets were neck-and-neck with the Musketeers throughout the entire first half. The Ohio teams entered the break deadlocked at 27 apiece, with a trip to Austin, TX, for the second round on the line.
Xavier and Toledo continued trading punches in the first four minutes of the second half. A Chris Darrington jumper launched the Rockets in front, 36-35, but then everything unraveled. Led by Naji Marshall, who contributed 10 points during the stretch, Xavier’s offense peaked with a rapid 20-2 run. Turnovers and missed 3-pointers hampered Toledo’s scoring during the run, and after Nate Navigato sunk a run-stopping three with 10:11 left, the Rockets found themselves down 17.
Xavier held on to the insurmountable lead, and will advance to Austin to face Texas in the tournament’s second round.
Not all was damper for Toledo though. Navigato achieved an impressive historical feat during the first half. After draining a triple from the left wing with 2:21 left in the first half, Navigato surpassed former Ohio Bobcat D.J. Cooper to become the MAC’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made. Navigato finished the night 4-of-7 and now has 309 career threes, three field goals above Cooper’s 306.
Toledo, the 2-seed in this month’s MAC Tournament, finishes the 2018-19 season at 25-8. This marks the Rockets’ second best record since the start of the 1980-81 season, sitting just behind 2013-14’s 27-7 finish.