TOLEDO, OHIO - Senior guard Jonathan Williams scored 21 points as the Toledo Rockets shot an astounding 78.9 percent from the field in the first half, building a double-digit lead and coasting to a 78-58 win over the Kent State Golden Flashes Saturday afternoon before 4,829 at Savage Arena.
With the victory, Toledo (13-12, 6-6 MAC) joins . . .
. . . Ball State and Northern Illinois atop the Mid-American Conference West Division. In addition, it was UT’s second consecutive win after going through a stretch where the Rockets lost four of five.
“I thought from start to finish, it was a real good performance by our guys.” Rockets head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We were locked in both offensively and defensively, and we played efficiently on both ends of the court.”
Williams’ 21 points led all scorers in the game. He added six assists and a steal. Three other Rockets made it into double figures. Senior Steve Taylor had 20 with seven rebounds Jaelan Sanford added 15 and Nate Navigato came off the bench to score 13 with four boards and two helpers.
With the loss, Kent State (13-12, 5-7) has lost two straight and three of its last five games, leaving the Flashes in fourth place in the Eastern Division
"When we defend at a high level and rebound at a high level, we are a pretty good team," KSU head man Rob Senderoff. "When we don't, like tonight, we are not a good team. Give Toledo credit for coming out with a lot of energy, but we can't do anything but look at ourselves and say, we don't guard and we're not moving the basketball and playing for each other. When we don't do that, we really struggle."
Sophomore Jaylin Walker led the Flashes in scoring with 13, while senior Jimmy Hall was the only other KSU player in double figures. He notched 10 points while pulling down five rebounds.
Saturday's game was a total reversal of their first meeting back on January 21st at the MAC Center, where the Flashes won handily 85-61.
After the visitors opened scoring with a Danny Pippenn 3-pointer from the left arc, the game was colored in Midnight Blue.
UT went on a 12-4 run, establishing a lead it would not relinquish. The early run ended when Sanford connected on a three from the top of the key.
Toledo opened a 10-point lead, 30-20, when Williams, who scored 14 in the opening half, hit a three from the right arc.
Surprisingly, even with UT's deadly accuracy from the field, the Flashes remained in the game with some clutch shooting of their own. They closed the margin to four on two occasions, the last being 34-20 at the 3:26 mark when Jalen Avery hit a jumper from the left wing.
The home team regained control and then matched its largest lead at the first half buzzer, 44-34, when Sanford connected on a three from the right corner/
From that point on, the Rockets lead would not fall below double digits.
How good was the UT shooting? Toledo was 15-of-19 from the field, including 7-of-10 from three-point range. Williams went a perfect 5-of-5 and Sanford was 4-of-5, with three coming from beyond the arc. KSU did not shoot badly, going 14-of-31 from the field (45.2%), and had a narrow 11-10 rebounding edge.
The second half started much as the first. Kent State got the first basket as Hall scored on a layup off the glass. However, UT effectively put the game away by scoring the next eight points to open a 52-36 lead after Jordan Lauf made a reverse layup.
The closest KSU would get for the remainder of the game was 12 points, 52-40, on a jumper by Jaylin Walker, who scored 11 points in the second half. UT’s biggest lead of the game was 22 points on a layup by Taylor before winning by 20. It was just Toledo's second win in the last five meetings with the rivals from Northeast Ohio.
In the second half, Toledo’s shooting did cool off, but only a little. The Rockets went 15-of-27 from the field (55.6%) and finished the contest at a sizzling 65.2% (30-of-46). They also out-rebounded the Flashes, 16-14, over the final 20 minutes and won the battle of the boards 26-25.
When asked about Williams’ performance, Kowalczyk said “ (It was) by far the best he has ever played.”
KSU was only 10-of-28 from the floor in the second period and just 1-of-11 from beyond the arc, finishing only at 40.7 percent (24-of-59). Some of the Flashes key scorers in recent games had trouble hitting the scoresheet against UT with senior Deon Edwin and freshman Mitch Peterson each chipping in six points.
Both teams return to action on Tuesday night, with Toledo traveling east to meet league leading Akron at Rhodes Arena and KSU returning home to face Miami.