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Toledo Rockets vs. Ohio Bobcats: Toledo pulls out 80-73 win

The Toledo Rockets didn't panic when they fell behind early, and slowly built up a lead to beat the struggling Bobcats.

Kaleb Carter

The final horn sounded, and a small cry of celebration went up from the Toledo bench.  But for most of audience still in attendance at the Convocation Center, there was nothing but silence. It wasn't just that their team, the Ohio Bobcats, had fallen 80-73 to the Toledo Rockets. It was that Ohio had now dropped 3 straight games- the first 3 games of conference play- and sat at a disappointing 5-9. An anticipated season that brought a talented class and a new coach is slipping away before their eyes.

In his post-game press conference, Ohio head coach Saul Phillips stressed that the team was improving. "You'd have to be blind not to see it," he said. But he was still frustrated. "We battled, but we weren't able to get it done. It feels like a loss they way the Bowling Green game felt like a loss. People talk about moral victories; I have no idea what it means."

The Bobcats got off to exactly the kind of start they needed, working the ball inside to build an early 12-4 lead. One of Maurice N'dour's best games last season came against Toledo at home, and again he led the way for Ohio. He provided the first points of the game, knocking down a difficult baseline jumper from behind the backboard. Antonio Campbell and Javarez Willis supplied early offensive support in both the paint and the from beyond the arch.

But then Toledo star J.D. Weatherspoon threw down an alley-oop that drew gasps from the home crowd and galvanized the Rockets. Nathan Boothe, Toledo's tall, talented forward, created match-up problems for the Bobcats, especially when the 'Cats got into foul trouble- Ohio was not a beneficiary of any hometown calls from the referees.

Ohio's Treg Setty struggled to contain Boothe in the first half, and did little to help matters on the other end of the floor by turning the ball over several times. But Setty was not the only Bobcat playing loose with the basketball. With just over 6 minutes to play in the half, Toledo finally took the lead. At halftime, it was 35-41 Rockets.

With N'dour in the game, Ohio and Toledo were an even match. But with their Senegalese forward on the bench, Ohio could not hang with the Rockets. With foul trouble hanging over N'dour like a black cloud, Toledo looked to exploit the post in the second half.

"We wanted to attack him, hit him as much as possible in the offensive end," said Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk. "We knew he'd try to block shots so we tried to get him in foul trouble, which we did."

But Ohio stuck around, thanks to improved play from Setty and guard Stevie Taylor, who had one of his best games in some time. Around the 13 minute mark, Stevie Taylor hit a jumper from the wing to put Ohio in front 49-48. The Convocation Center exploded.

But the Rockets did not panic. They went on a quick 5-0 run to take a lead they would not relinquish. They used their size to force their way into the paint, and to gobble up rebounds that lead to second, third and even fourth chance shots. As quickly as Ohio had forced their way back into the game, Toledo just as quickly took it away from them. The Rockets slowly built the lead to 10 as they continued to knock down shots in their own end while blocking shots on the other. Ohio tried a desperate press to force turnovers, but it was not enough.

Despite Ohio's struggles so far, it was an important win for Toledo- their first in Athens since 2003. It boosted their record to 10-6, and kept the tied for first in the MAC at 2-1. Weatherspoon, Boothe and speedy guard Julius Brown each had at least 12 points.

"We knew the situation they were in being 0-2," said Kowalczyk. "We were going to get their best shots- they have their backs against the wall."

Ohio players tried to look for positives after the game. For long stretches, the team played together and showed they could hang with arguably the best team in the West. Willis scored 18, N'dour had 16. They shot 50 percent from the field, which is usually good enough for a win.

"We played more together this game, we played with a lot more energy," said N'dour after the game. "But at the end of the day, defense wins championships, and we didn't do a good enough job with that.

Game Leaders

Points J. Willis (18) J.D. Weatherspoon (19)
Rebounds M. Ndour (7) J.D. Weatherspoon (10)
Assists S. Taylor (5) J. Brown (5)
Blocks M. Ndour (4) J.D. Weatherspoon (1)
Steals M. Ndour (1) J.D. Weatherspoon (3)