Updated Thu, Feb 9, 2012 12:54 pm
The Ohio Bobcats played "soft" in the words of their head coach Wednesday night, and in doing so, saw its six-game winning streak go out the window with a 77-73 setback to the Toledo Rockets. The loss drops Ohio (19-5, 7-3) into a 3rd place tie with Kent State in the MAC East, behind Akron (9-1) and Buffalo (8-2).
Ohio had hung its hat on defense and toughness during its six-game winning streak, not allowing a single team to shoot over 37 percent. But tonight they struggled in those areas as Toledo (11-13, 3-7) became the first team during MAC play to hit the 70 point mark on Ohio, while shooting over 43 percent from the field.
The final rebounding margin wasn't pretty either for the Bobcats, who were bullied on the boards 43-32. Adding fuel to the fire was the Rockets 20 rebounds on the offensive end.
"They were tougher, bottom line," Groce said afterwards. "I thought this was the first time we've been this soft since Bowling Green. Just look at the hustle plays and loose ball statistics and they dominated us."
A quick look at the box score would show Ohio had no answer for Toledo forward and reigning MAC West player of the week, Rian Pearson. Pearson notched his 6th double-double of the season, scoring 18 points while grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds. Nine of which came on the offensive end where he continually extended Toledo possessions that often times lead to back-breaking points on Ohio's defense.
"I thought he [Pearson] was absolutely terrific." Groce said "This was the first time i've coached against him, I really appreciated him when watching him on film. He's certainly one of the better players in our league. He imposed his will at a high level."
Pearson was joined by teammate Matt Smith, who also scored 18 points to go with six rebounds. Curtis Dennis and Julius Brown were the other Rockets' double-figure scorers with 15 and 14 respectively.
At first, it appeared Ohio would cruise Wednesday night. The 'Cats opened the game on-fire, racing to a 15 to nothing lead on the strength of 6-of-9 shooting within the games first three minutes.
Toledo wasn't phased.
The Rockets continued to chip away at Ohio's lead by going inside to Pearson and Smith who were dominant in the paint and with defense. Ohio was held scoreless for a five minute stretch in the first half, which saw Toledo storm from 14 down, to just four, before eventually taking a 38-34 lead into halftime.
The first 15 minutes of the second half were controlled by the Rockets who extended their lead to as many as 13 points and never saw it dip below nine until Ohio broke out its vaunted full-court press with five minutes left, down 66-57.
"We were in comeback mode there, late in the game," Groce said when talking about the press defense. "We were in a little bit of a desperation mode. We gambled a couple of times and it worked out in our favor."
Lead by the strength of their full-court pressure--forcing four Toledo turnovers--and clutch D.J. Cooper shooting--scoring 10 points in the final five minutes--Ohio came all the way back, taking a 73-72 lead with 1:35 on the clock.
But Dennis answered with a three point play for Toledo giving the Rockets a lead they would never relinquish.
On Ohio's final possession, trailing 75-73, Cooper missed a three-pointer with six seconds left. The ball was rebounded by Toledo, but a quick turnover gave Ohio one last chance with 2.2 seconds left on the clock. Cooper tried an in-bounds lob to Baltic, but the pass fell harmlessly out of bounds. Toledo made two more free throws giving them the final 77-73 winning margin.
"He [Cooper] had made a couple," Groce said when discussing Ohio's last possession. "In a perfect world I'd rather him drive it there. But they defended the ball screen really well."
Ohio was led by Cooper's 18 points off 6-of-16 shooting. Nick Kellogg scored 13, and Reggie Keely scored 11, rounding out Ohio's double-digit scorers.
For the game, Ohio shot 38.9 percent from the floor and and 36.4 percent from three-point range.
Up next for the 'Cats is their final cross-division game in the MAC, against West leading Eastern Michigan (10-14, 5-5). Tip time is 4:30 Saturday afternoon.