Last Modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 5:33 PM
TOLEDO, Ohio — The McNeese State basketball team could not overcome a sluggish first half and a 24-point deficit as Toledo beat the Cowboys for the second time, 79-66 in the last BracketBuster game at Savage Arena on Saturday.
Toledo, which ended the Cowboys’ season last year in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, took advantage of 14 turnovers in the first half to build a double-digit halftime lead.
McNeese rallied late in the second half, shooting 51.6 percent over the final 20 minutes, but made 11 of 21 free throws for the game. Those were the two statistics that seemed to bother Cowboys head coach Dave Simmons the most.
“The last game we didn’t have 14 turnovers in the game and we had 14 turnovers in a half today,” Simmons said. “Toledo wasn’t pressing us, so that tells you that the turnovers were self-inflicted. We shot free throws well our last two games. When you’re on the road, free throw shooting is what keeps you in the game and allows you to make runs. We needed those free throws today.”
The loss ended a two-game win streak.
Jeremie Mitchell, who fouled out without scoring against Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday, led the Cowboys with a season-high 18 points, including a 6-for-9 performance from the 3-point arch. Mitchell said the loss had more to do with how they played than what Toledo did.
“It was disappointing because we know we’re a way better team than this,” he said. “We shouldn’t have ever let them get us down like that. They didn’t do anything spectacular. They hit some shots when we were in a scoring slump. At the end of the day, all you can do is go back, watch the film and try to learn from it for the next game.”
The Rockets defense seemed to latch on to Cowboys leading scorer Dontae Cannon. Cannon, averaging 12.1 points a game, was held scoreless, getting off three shots in 33 minutes of play. Forward Desharick Guidry was also held under his average (11.9 ppg), with seven points.
“Dontae didn’t score probably for the first time in his career,” Simmons said. “Jeremie made some shots he doesn’t normally hit. Late in the game, we’ve got to have those guys show up for us. We need both of them.”
The Rockets went on a 19-6 run over the last 7 minutes of the first half to take control, going into halftime with a 35-22 edge.
Toledo, behind the aggressive play of guard Rian Pearson, increased its lead to 66-42 with 8:43 left in the game.
That’s when McNeese seemed to find a second gear, going on a 19-6 run of its own. A Mitchell 3-point shot started the comeback with 8:11 left in regulation. Another Mitchell’s 3-pointer at the 4:23 mark cut the Rockets advantage to 72-61.
Simmons said he was pleased with the Cowboys’ determination, but the effort came too late to make a difference in the outcome.
“We needed that in the first half,” Simmons said. “At that time in the second half we had a sense of urgency. Everybody has got to have a sense of urgency at the beginning of the ballgame.”
Mitchell agreed, saying that the second-half performance should have been good enough to win.
“We need to put two halves together,” Mitchell said. “The same intensity we play with when we’re down by 10 or 15 points, we need to play the same way when we’re up by 10 or 15 points. If we can do that and put two halves together, we’ll be all right.”
Pearson snuffed out McNeese’s last rally with consecutive baskets, the first on a three-point play, to secure Toledo’s double-digit lead the rest of the game.
Simmons said forward Pete Kpan was a bright point for McNeese. Kpan, playing extended minutes as Simmons looked for an effective combination, scored a career-high 10 points and grabbed six rebounds, another career high, all in the second half.
“Peter stepped up knowing he’s going to make a difference,” Simmons said. “He got some confidence this game and teammates got some confidence in him. We have four conference games left and every one of them means a lot. We got to see some guys I think can help us.”