Toledo's Nate Navigato, pictured in a game earlier this season, scored 19 points in a win over Miami Friday.
OXFORD, Ohio — Winning conference games on the road is perhaps the biggest challenge in college basketball.
Lately, the University of Toledo men’s basketball team is sticking together and embracing that challenge. Friday night at Miami was no different.
The Rockets limited Miami to 22 first-half points and held off a Redhawks’ second-half surge in a 73-67 win at Millett Hall.
It was the fifth consecutive road victory for Toledo after losing to Buffalo in the conference opener.
“We’ve been playing better on the road than we have at home all year long,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “It’s a together group that stays positive. It is great assistant coaches that stay positive. That’s the only way to win on the road. You can’t win on the road being negative. You can’t do it. Our guys stay positive at all times and when they make a run, we are going to get a stop and we are going to score and we did that tonight.”
Nate Navigato led Toledo (18-7, 10-2 MAC) with 19 points, including three 3-pointers. Tre’Shaun Fletcher, despite battling an illness that kept him out of two practices this week, notched a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Jaelan Sanford chipped in with 15 points.
Darrian Ringo paced Miami (13-12, 6-6 MAC) with 16 points, Logan McLane added 15, and Nike Sibande had 13. Bowsher grad Dalonte Brown made a 3 for the game’s first points, and finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Miami’s first half output was the lowest of any Toledo opponent this season and the Rockets took an 11-point lead into the locker room.
However, Miami opened the second half on a 17-6 run in the first 4 minutes, 15 seconds to tie the game at 39.
Toledo later established a seven-point lead after back-to-back Taylor Adway jumpers gave the Rockets a 58-51 edge with 5:31 left.
“Taylor came in and hit two big shots to allow us to kind of rally from their run that they were trying to make,” Navigato said. “Those gave us a little cushion that we needed and we were able to pull away from there.”
Miami cut the Toledo lead to three after two free throws by Sibande with 2:22 remaining.
Fletcher answered by making 3-of-4 free throws on back-to-back possessions. Brown then made 1-of-2 from the line to cut the Toledo lead to 66-61 with 1:11 to go.
On Toledo’s next possession Fletcher missed a 3, but Luke Knapke was there to grab the rebound and kick it back out to Sanford, who Miami was forced to foul with 30 seconds left.
Sanford made two from the line to make it 68-61. From then on, Toledo made its free throws to close out the game.
Aside from the big offensive rebound, Knapke had a career-high five blocked shots as he anchored the Rockets’ defense.
“It gave us an extra possession, and they had to foul us then,” Kowalczyk said. “Luke is a tough dude. He’s physical and he’s not the strongest, but as far as mental and physical toughness, he has it. That’s what he does. Our game plan was to keep him back on the ball screens and let him be a shot blocker.”
Navigato, who came into the game in a bit of a shooting slump, hit three of his six 3-point attempts in the game, adding six rebounds and two blocked shots.
“I needed a couple to go in,” Navigato said. “I was due for a couple. It was nice that my teammates were able to find me.”
“It’s just a matter of time with him,” Kowalczyk added. “I don’t worry about Nate Navigato shooting 3s. He’s a guy that can make shots and tonight he did.”
Toledo anticipated a tough environment coming in, and Miami fans showed up in full force as the Redhawks’ honored Wally Szczerbiak, who was the color analyst for the game on CBS Sports Network.
“We came in here and we knew it was going to be a good atmosphere,” Navigato said. “I thought we stuck together and played with a lot of energy. When we play with a lot of energy, everything goes well for us. We move the ball on offense. We are active in the gaps on defense and have active feet and we always play together.
“We pride ourselves in being the best road team in the league. We came in here, into a great atmosphere, and it’s great to walk away from here with a win.”
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