CLEVELAND – The Toledo Rockets snapped a two-game losing streak as they opened a big first half lead and never looked back while defeating the Cleveland State Vikings 59-54 for their first road win of the season Wednesday night at the Wolstein Center.
Toledo (3-4) had suffered losses to Horizon League competition by three points at home against Detroit and two points in its last game Saturday at Oakland. In both contests, the Rockets squandered second half leads.
“I think we needed an ‘us-against-the world’ mentality, and I think tonight it showed.” UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk said.
Cleveland State (2-5) absorbed its third loss in the last four games after opening the season at 2-1.
“We did not play well tonight.” Vikings head man Gary Waters said. “Toledo played good defense, which made it tough for us. But we are a much better basketball team than this.”
Junior Trey Lewis led all scorers in the contest with 21 points, along with four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a blocked shot.
UT took advantage of some ice cold shooting by the home team early to open an 18-8 lead at the 12:06 mark on a driving layup by Drummond.
From that point on, the Rockets lead hovered in double-digits until the game’s final moments although Cleveland State closed the margin to nine on two occasions. The second was 24-15 at the 2:13 mark on a putback bucket by senior Marlin Mason.
Weatherspoon, who hit 10 points in the opening half, scored on a pair of free throws and a layup in the lane gave the Rockets a 13-point bulge at intermission, 28-15.
To say the shooting from the field in the first half was poor would be an understatement. UT was 10-of-26 from the floor (38.5%). Meanwhile, the Vikings were held to just 6-of-29 (20.7 %). Most of their misses came from beyond the arc, where they were just 2-of-14. They did pull down11 offensive rebounds, but only scored seven points off the caroms.
At the start of the second half, Toledo used a 10-3 spurt to open its largest lead of the game, 36-18, on a three-pointer from the right arc by senior Julius Brown. The pre-season MAC Player of the Year was held to just nine points on the evening. It was the first time this season he failed to reach double figures. He did contribute to the victory with five assists and three steals.
While the Vikings made some runs, UT responded to each challenge and pushed the lead back out.
CSU closed the margin to 11 (37-26) at the 14:57mark on a layup in the lane by Mason, UT scored the next seven points on a three-pointer from the right arc by Williams, followed by layups from Weatherspoon and sophomore Jordan Lauf.
With the Rockets holding a 50-42 lead and four minutes remaining on a layup by Drummond, the Vikings made their final push. They put together a 14-3 run on the strength of four three-pointers -- a pair from senior Charlie Lee, and one each by Lewis and Mason. Junior Anton Grady’s thunderous slam dunk moved the separation to three points with 11 seconds remaining.
Two free throws by Williams with nine seconds left sealed the Rockets victory, their second straight over CSU and their first on the North Coast since December, 1995 (a 71-44 rout).
UT was not much better from the floor in the second half than it was in the first, going 9-of-22 (40.9%). The visitors were just 19-of-48 (39.6%) over 40 minutes. They won the battle of the boards 37-34, pulling down 14 on the offensive side end, and that led to 20 second chance points. In addition, the Rockets forced Cleveland State into 16 turnovers, converting them into 20 points.
When asked about their composure in the second half, Drummond said “We just tried to control the game and not take any bad shots or start making turnovers. I was proud of our guys tonight.”
To their credit, the Vikings made a game of it in the second half by shooting 50 percent from the floor (15-of-30) and going 8-of-14 from beyond the arc .They forced UT into 11 turnovers in the stanza (scoring 16 points) and had five steals. However, their first half deficit was just too much to overcome.
The Rockets return home to Savage Hall on Saturday night to begin a three-game home stand, beginning with the Cougars of Chicago State out of the Western Athletic Conference.