CMU men’s basketball struggles on senior night, loses to Toledo

Sophomore center Markus Harding goes up for a layup during the game against Toledo on Tuesday, Feb. 28 in McGuirk Arena. Harding had 9 points in the game.

Up against the top team in the Mid-American Conference, Central Michigan men’s basketball seniors took the court at McGuirk Arena for the last time as the Chippewas looked to keep their hopes of a trip to the MAC tournament in Cleveland alive.

To the dismay of CMU fans, Toledo (24-6, 15-2) overcame a quick burst of early momentum from the Chippewas (10-20, 5-12) and extended its winning streak to 14 with a 99-65 win, matching its program record for consecutive wins in a single season on Tuesday night. 

“We couldn’t score,” head coach Tony Barbee said. “We probably got 60, 70 points in sweatsuits not playing. When you’re (giving) walk-ons extended minutes, it is what it is, it makes it hard.”

CMU got out of the gates quickly with a play designed to get senior guard Brian Taylor an open look, which he converted on. Shortly after, freshman guard Reggie Bass found his own long-range shot via his often-used step back three to give the Chippewas the first six points of the game. However, Toledo quickly evened up the score in a hard-fought opening five minutes of action.

Coming off of a 40-point record-breaking performance, Bass carried the momentum he created from last game registering 16 first-half points on better than 50% shooting. In addition to the scoring, he collected three rebounds and four assists through the first 20 minutes. 

Through the first 15 minutes of the contest, neither team held an advantage of more than five points. However, the last five before the half, the Chippewas were outscored 17-10 by the Rockets, despite shooting 3-for-4 from the field and 4-for-5 from the free throw line during that span. Toledo led at the half 45-35.

Bass finished the game with 27 points, four assists and four rebounds. He also turned the ball over a game-high six times while doing the majority of the ball handling for CMU. Overall, the Chippewas turned the ball over 17 times, while the Rockets only committed 10.

Toledo only converted one more field goal than CMU in the first half, but the Rockets held a 12-3 advantage over the Chippewas from the free throw line, allowing them to widen the scoring gap. 

“I thought we competed in the first half,” Barbee said. “I thought we got a bad whistle in that first half. They shoot (approximately) 15 free throws, we shoot five. I didn’t think it was fair with the whistle, but Toledo is a seasoned veteran team. That’s why they are where they are in the standings, up near the top.”

While CMU managed to stay neck-and-neck with the Rockets to start the first half, the early portion of the second half was quite the opposite. Toledo took advantage of a struggling Chippewas squad by outscoring them 11-0 by the time the first media timeout of the second half rolled around, holding a 56-34 advantage with 15:40 remaining in the game.

By the second media timeout, the Chippewas found themselves trailing by 25 with 10:26 to play. The Rockets had more than doubled CMU’s second-half scoring tally while shooting 75% from the floor.

The Chippewas could not match their first-half performance in terms of efficiency over the final 20 minutes, shooting 34.8% in the second half and 42% overall. They shot better from three than they did overall, hitting nine of their 21 three-point attempts. Toledo made 31 of its 53 overall shot attempts, converting on well over 50% from the floor.

Averaging 85.2 points per game as a team, Toledo surpassed its average mark with 5:29 remaining via a trip to the free throw line from sophomore forward André Lorentsson. The Rockets only trail Gonzaga (87.4) in national scoring average this season.

Given the starting nod, senior guard Marc Garland made his impact felt during the second half with his long-range shooting stroke. In a 1:40 stretch a little more than halfway through the final period, Garland made three consecutive shots from behind the arc and ignited the home crowd, scoring all of his nine points from these shots.

“That meant everything to me man,” Garland said of his opportunity in this game. “I just wanted to make up for my mistakes. Then (my shots) started to fall. I got my confidence up and just started rolling.”

With just a single game remaining on the MAC schedule, CMU finds itself in ninth place in the standings just one spot out of the top eight that make the tournament following a win from Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday night. The Chippewas take on Western Michigan on Friday, ending their regular season. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.