HUNTINGTON – Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni is no stranger to seeing a team nicknamed the Rockets fill it up from 3-point range. Normally, however, it is his brother Mike’s team.
On Sunday afternoon, the Toledo Rockets resembled the Houston Rockets early on, draining 11 first-half 3-pointers to jump out to an insurmountable lead in a 96-70 win over Marshall in front of 5,645 fans at Cam Henderson Center.
Coming into the season, D’Antoni knew there would be growing pains with a young lineup getting used to new roles. Those growing pains showed themselves on Sunday and led to a frustrating afternoon for the Thundering Herd.
“They were awfully good – well-coached, well-drilled,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “They ran their sets hard and obviously shot the tar out of it – especially early, which hurt us because they were our mistakes.”
Toledo (1-1) placed six players in double-figures, using its first-half attack from the outside to force Marshall (1-1) out of its zone before going to work on the inside once the Herd was in the man-to-man defense.
Spencer Littleson was the catalyst for the Rockets, scoring 18 of his 27 points before halftime – 15 of which came on five first-half 3-pointers. Prior to Sunday, Littleson’s career-high was 14 points.
“When you have four or five guys on the floor at once who can shoot it, it opens it up for a guy like Spencer,” Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “What I liked about Spencer today is that he played so hard and didn’t try to do too much and made open shots.”
D’Antoni said that the most troubling aspect for the Herd was that the 3-pointers came off wide-open looks for the Rockets due to Marshall’s defensive miscues.
Jarrod West, Marshall’s top defender, said the Rockets’ hot shooting boiled down to Marshall’s defense not executing.
“We gave them open shots and they made them,” West said. “It’s pretty simple, honestly. I know the first play, I gave up a wide-open 3 in the corner and that probably got them going. They’ve got good shooters – good mechanics, good form – and they run a great offense.”
For the second straight game, West scored 20 points, matching teammate Taevion Kinsey for team-high honors on Sunday.
While those two were able to get going, Marshall’s other options could not find their range on the evening.
“We had opportunities to stay right with them – wide-open shots – and we missed them,” D’Antoni said.
The contest started out much like last season’s matchup between the teams with Toledo jumping out to a 55-34 halftime advantage. Unlike last year, though, the Rockets never relented, answering each Marshall run to earn the lopsided win.
The Herd cut the deficit to 63-49 after a basket by West with 12:47 left, but a 3-point play by Dylan Alderson and a 3-pointer by Littleson pushed the advantage back above 20 points where it stayed the rest of the way.
As the Herd started to claw back, Marshall started pressing the issue, which led to turnovers and poor shot selection that allowed the Rockets to restore the large lead. The Herd finished with just six assists while turning it over 17 times.
D’Antoni said it is all part of the learning process and Sunday was a good experience – albeit, painful – for his team.
“Things will clear up,” D’Antoni said. “The ball will get moving, we’ll know where to go with it. I haven’t gotten a substitution pattern yet. I’m trying to figure out who belongs on the floor with who, where and how. When all that stuff takes place, I think you’ll see us rise back up to where we are very competitive.”
The Rockets also got a career-high effort from Alderson, who reached double-figures for the first time in his career with 17 points. He also had 10 rebounds.
Toledo’s offense was a strong balance of outside and interior presence. The Rockets’ hot shooting from the outside forced Marshall out of its zone, which led to the Rockets establishing an inside presence with Willie Jackson and Luke Knapke down low.
Knapke finished with 15 points and eight rebounds while Willie Jackson notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Marreon Jackson, who scored 27 points in the season-opener, was more of a facilitator for the Rockets on Sunday, ending the day with 12 points and eight assists in the win.
“We were a very unselfish team,” Kowalczyk said. “We moved the ball.”
Marshall must regroup quickly as they prepare for the first road test of the season at Notre Dame on Friday. D’Antoni said that the growing process for the Herd is one that will take some time, which he expected coming into the season.
“It’s like a child before he can walk,” D’Antoni said. “You can hold him up there, but he’s going to fall down until he’s ready. I’m not too worried. I think there’s some things I saw that we can work on and get better at, and I think these kids will.”
Sunday’s game was the first of two between the teams this season. Marshall travels to Toledo on Dec. 8.