Toledo clinched a share of the Mid-American Conference West Division title and punched its ticket to Cleveland Saturday afternoon with an 80-68 triumph at Central Michigan (20-9, 9-7 MAC).
The win was the Rockets’ second straight wire-to-wire victory and gave Toledo (23-6, 11-5 MAC) a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament for the fourth time in the last six years.”We are MAC West Champions, but we aren’t happy with that because there is more for us to accomplish,” Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “Our defensive mindset was locked in for 40 minutes, and I thought we were very efficient offensively in the second half. Central Michigan made a run at us in the second half, but we stayed together and made big plays down the stretch.”
The Rockets were led offensively by the trio of senior Jaelan Sanford, junior Luke Knapke and sophomore Marreon Jackson. Sanford (8 of 13 from field) and Knapke (8 of 9) tied for the team scoring lead with 19 points, while Jackson (7 of 13) contributed 18 points.
Knapke also tied his career high with five blocked shots and dished out a team-high four assists. Knapke helped Toledo equal its school record with 11 blocks, the second time this season the Rockets blocked 11 Chippewa shots. Freshman AJ Edu tallied four blocks, with senior Nate Navigato and junior Willie Jackson rejecting one apiece.
“Our defense in the paint from Luke, AJ and Willie was tremendous,” Kowalczyk said. “We didn’t allow very many layups, and our size and defensive intensity played a big role in that.”
Willie Jackson helped Toledo post a slim 35-34 rebounding advantage with a team-high eight boards.
The Rockets shot 52.4 percent from the field and knocked down 11 of 27 shots (40.7 percent) from three-point range. Marreon Jackson was 4 of 9 from three-point range, while Sanford was 3 of 5. UT limited Central Michigan to a 39.3 shooting mark.
Toledo will have an opportunity to secure a second straight outright West Division title when it hosts Western Michigan Tuesday, March 5. Tip-off time in Savage Arena is set for 7 p.m.
For tickets, call 419.530.GOLD (4653), go to the Toledo Rockets website, or stop by the UT Ticket Office in Savage Arena.