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March Madness evident in MAC as Toledo manages another stunner

Kent State has the 2016-2017 player of the year and coach of the year, but Toledo’s grit is taking them all the way to the MAC Tournament semifinals

Toledo Rockets Athletics

CLEVELAND, Ohio— After the second round of play, the top three seeds are out of the MAC Tournament.

The No. 6 Toledo Rockets completed the trifecta when they knocked off the No. 3 Kent State Golden Flashes, 67-63 to advance to the MAC Tournament semifinals.

Toledo’s hustle play was tantamount in overcoming Kent. They did the gritty work down low in the paint, scoring 36 paint points compared to Kent’s 20. The Rockets were also the team that scored more effectively in transition, scoring 12 points compared to just two for the Golden Flashes. Toledo also won the rebounding battle, 35-24.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Toledo. The Rockets faced plenty of adversity in the third quarter, as Kent headed into the last ten minutes with a 56-50 lead. The Rockets had to fight to regain a lead with 5:34 remaining in the fourth on a three-pointer from Mariella Santucci. The other critical three-pointer came from Janice Monakana, who gave Toledo a five-point lead, 66-61, with just two minutes left on a three-pointer that just barely beat the shot clock.

“If I'm honest, we heard people counting on the shot clock. Honestly wasn't sure that [Mikaela Boyd] was going to pass to me,” Monakana said.

“I kind of just-- she passed it to me, that's basically what happened. I think me just staying ready, even though I missed a couple shots, just stayed confident and wanted to shoot that 3 to help us win and I think that was my mind set through the game.”

The Rockets were led offensively by Monakana with 15, Jay Bravo-Harriott with 14, and Sophie Reecher with 11. Also noteworthy, with her 14 points, Bravo-Harriott surpassed the 1,000-point mark. Larissa Lurken, who was just named the MAC player of the year this week, scored a game-high 25 points for Kent State. Head coach Tricia Cullop talked about how important the team defensive effort to stop Lurken in the fourth quarter was.

“I thought one of the biggest keys was trying to stay in front of her. We didn't always do a good job, but trying to stay in front of her and trying to keep her out of the paint because she's so good at drawing fouls. I thought our whole team as a collective unit were rotating and trying to take away her drives to the basket.”

Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter that the Rockets didn’t have a single player break out for more than 20 points, because the hustle plays made the difference down the stretch.

Toledo would retain a lead for most of the first half. Heading into the locker room at halftime, the Rockets were up 39-35. Leading the way was a balanced offensive attack from Bravo-Harriot and Reecher each with nine points, as well as Monakana with seven.

As previously stated, paint points were not hard to come by for the Rockets. They had 24 compared to Kent State’s 10 after the second quarter. The Rockets also had plenty of bench points, with 15 of their 39 for the half coming from their reserves. Nine of those 15 came from Reecher.

Toledo’s comeback in the final 5:34 of the game was on theme with the second round MAC games, as No. 1 Central Michigan and No. 2 Ball State fell earlier in the day.

Toledo will play No. 8 Buffalo on Friday in the semifinals.