Junior guard RayJ Dennis scored 28 points to lead No. 1 seed Toledo to a 82-75 victory over No. 5 seed Ohio in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland on Friday.
Toledo (27-6) will now face the winner of the Kent State-Akron game in the MAC Championship Game Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ESPN2). The Rockets, winners of 17 straight game, will be playing in the league title game for the first time since 2018.
“It was just a resilient win,” said Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk. “We just kind of grinded it out. We had a really good start. I have a lot of respect for Ohio because they can really score. We knew we had to have some runs. We just could never put them away. We’d get up eight and we couldn’t get it to 15.”
“We’ve got a resilient group,” added Dennis. “It starts with (Coach) K and trickles down through the rest of the program. It’s contagious.”
Dennis, the MAC Player of the Year, connected on 11-of-20 shots from the field, was 5-of-6 from the free throw line and grabbed six rebounds. Time and time again he came through with big baskets whenever the Rockets needed it. He was joined in double figures by junior guard Dante Maddox, who scored 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Toledo shot 51.8% from the floor, its eighth-straight game over 50 percent, while holding the Bobcats to just 38.6%. Ohio outrebounded the Rockets, 43-29, but could only convert its 20 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points.
“I’m really proud of our defense,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought we really guarded them.”
“We know they are a really good offensive team,” Dennis said. “Our plan was to get them off the three-point line. They hit some tough threes but ultimately, we made them shoot some tough ones, some shots they didn’t want to, and get big stops down the stretch.”
Toledo trailed in the early going but used a 17-4 run to take a 37-31 lead at halftime. Ohio (19-14) pulled to within one point, 42-41, early in the second half but could never catch the Rockets. Toledo, which built the lead to as much as 11 points, sealed the win by connecting on 17-of-23 free throws in the second half after not attempting any in the first 20 minutes.
“Right now we’re just living in the moment,” Maddox said. “We’re happy with this win but we’ve got to keep going. Tomorrow we’re 40 minutes away. We know that we’re more than capable. It’s just about executing the plan at this point.”