After a blowout win in the MAC Tournament quarterfinal on Thursday, Toledo had a tighter contest with Ohio during Friday night’s semifinal round, but the Rockets ultimately willed their way to a 82–75 win — their 17th straight victory— to advance to the MAC Tournament Championship Game. The Rockets were led by the backcourt duo of RayJ Dennis and Dante Maddox Jr. in a game where the lead wasn’t more than single-digits over the majority of the matchup.
Ohio held a small lead for part of the first half, but Toledo found their rhythm about midway through the first period of play, going on a to give Toledo a 25-15 lead with six minutes to go off a RayJ Dennis made layup. The Bobcats responded and cut that lead to three on a Jaylin Hunter triple to stay in the game. It wasn’t the first — and wouldn’t be the last — three-pointer for Hunter, who finished with a total of seven treys in the contest.
Toledo took a four-point lead into the halftime break, but the contest was there for the taking to start the second half. At the 13:19 mark, Setric Millner gave Toledo a huge energy boost with an emphatic dunk over AJ Clayton to give his squad a six point lead. Ohio never shot particularly well, but kept themselves in it with second-chance buckets, amassing 20 offensive boards.
With both teams still battling midway through the second, RayJ Dennis took over, using creative ballhandling to work his way into the paint and score amongst the trees. The MAC Player of the Year finished with 28 points, but his best highlight of the night might have been a behind-the-back pass to open up Millner for a wide open three that gave the Rockets a nine-point lead with 3:07 left.
Despite the late deficit, the Bobcats continued to battle and found themselves down six with the ball with just under a minute remaining. Jaylin Hunter launched a three that would have given him 30 points on the night and made it a one possession game but it rimmed out, sealing the deal for Ohio.
In addition to great offensive performances for Dennis and Maddox — who was clutch from the line to close the game — Toledo played great defense when they needed to. First-team all-MAC honoree JT Shumate drew a charge and forced a travel in big moments in the second half. Maddox and guard Ra’Heim Moss each had two steals while forward AJ Edu swatted three Bobcat shots coming off the bench. This defensive performance from Toledo shows they are much more than an offense-first team.
It’s the end for an Ohio team that played well in recent weeks and made a solid showing in Cleveland. With Jaylin Hunter returning and freshman AJ Brown coming into his own, Jeff Boals’ squad has promise going forward.
Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets will look to complete their magical run with a MAC Tournament Championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980. It’ll be Toledo’s first appearance in the MAC title game since 2018.
They’ll face the winner of Kent State/Akron on Saturday at 7:30 p.m Eastern.