The final seconds tick away on scoreboards sprinkled across the arena. One bench is full of smiling faces, while the other is riddled with blank stares. A passionate contingent dressed in blue and gold elevate from their seats, and cheer as they anticipate a triumph. A buzzer screeches through Thompson-Boling Arena: Toledo has completed an upset victory on the biggest stage in the sport.
The twelfth-seeded Toledo Rockets defeated the fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones 80-73 in the opening round of the national tournament on Saturday night, ensuring their advancement into the second round of March Madness— with the potential to play in the Sweet 16 with another victory on Monday night.
The victory marked the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 1996, and it notched the first advancement past the opening round for any MAC team since 2019.
Toledo was not gifted the upset win; the squad maintained its focus for 40 minutes to prevail in a closely-contested game against the Big 12 champions.
The opening quarter saw both squads display their offensive strength. Both Toledo and Iowa State found the bottom of the net with great efficiency, with both teams shooting over the 50-percent mark from the field, and they both moved the ball with clear intent, with total of three turnovers committed between them both.
Neither team was able command the high-scoring first quarter, as Rockets only trailed the Cyclones 23-20 through the first ten minutes.
In the second frame, Toledo continued to impose its will on the offensive end, and it also tightened its defensive pressure. The Rockets’ 10-of-17 shooting performance paired with their greater defensive focus allowed them to outscore the Cyclones 23-13 in the second quarter.
Toledo’s second-quarter surge propelled it to a 43-36 lead heading into the halftime break.
Although the Rockets’ offensive onslaught cooled off in the third quarter, shooting 8-of-19 from the field and 1-of-6 from deep, they maintained their lead by forcing uncomfortable shots for Iowa State. The Cyclones’ 4-of-16 shooting effort in the third frame allowed Toledo to outscore them 18-17, giving the blue and gold an eight-point edge with one quarter remaining.
The final period saw the Rockets convert on just 4-of-11 field goal attempts, forcing them to close out the game at the charity stripe. After shooting just five free throws throughout the first three quarters, Toledo earned 11 trips to the free throw line. It converted on 10 of its 11 free throw attempts, allowing the squad to survive an Iowa State run that brought the game with within five points.
The unanimous MAC Player of the Year Quinesha Lockett shined under the bright lights of the tournament. The senior guard posted a 24-point, 13-rebound double-double, and provided a much-needed spark for the Rockets all game.
Behind Lockett was Jayda Jansen, who turned in an admirable 17-point performance off the bench. Sophia Wiard and Nan Garcia rounded out the Rockets’ crew of four double-figure scorers, as they logged 15 points and 12 points, respectively.
The Rockets’ head coach, Tricia Cullop, attributed her team’s win to the tests that her team’s MAC schedule provided this season.
“Earlier, you know, it was kind of mentioned that non-conference prepared us, and I do think that’s true,” Cullop said. “But I also want to say our conference prepared us. We have really good teams in our league, and I think the BGs (Bowling Green) and Ball State’s of the world deserve a lot of credit too.”
Cullop’s squad will take on the fourth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the second round at 6 p.m. Eastern on Monday, March 20. The game will be played inside Tennessee’s home grounds, Thompson-Boling Arena, and will be broadcast on ESPN2.