Toledo claimed a hard-fought 46-43 victory over Georgia State Sunday in the championship game of the Georgia State University Holiday & Hoops Tournament inside the GSU Sports Arena in Atlanta.With the triumph, UT wrapped up its non-conference slate with a 12-1 mark.
Senior Naama Shafir led the Rockets with 11 points, while junior Andola Dortch had 10 points to help extend the Rockets’ win streak to 11 consecutive games.
The three-time Mid-American Conference West Division Champions also received stout efforts from senior Lecretia Smith (8 points, 4 rebounds) and sophomore Inma Zanoguera (7 points, career-high 14 rebounds) to capture an unprecedented fourth tourney crown this season.
Zanoguera was named the tourney MVP, contributing 8.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in this weekend’s two victories. The Llucamajor, Spain, native was joined on the all-tournament squad by senior Yolanda Richardson (14.0 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game).
The storyline in Sunday’s non-conference finale was UT’s ability to get to the charity stripe and convert. The Rockets made 11 of 16 free throws, while GSU (8-3) converted only two of six.
Toledo also displayed an exceptional effort defensively and limited the Panthers to 31.7 percent (19 of 60) from the floor and 33.3 percent (2 of 6) from the free throw line to deny the home team their championship on their home court.
Kayla Nolan and Kendra Long paced Georgia State with 13 points each.
In a showdown where field goals were truly hard to come by, the Rockets received back-to-back layups from junior Brianna Jones and Richardson to give them an early 9-2 lead at the 12:59 mark.
UT would not score for the next five-plus minutes, while GSU countered with a 7-0 run to knot the difference at 9-9 with 7:56 left in opening half. Three different Panthers were credited with baskets in the burst to draw the teams even.
The score would be tied on three more occasions, before Georgia State utilized a 7-2 run to open up a 22-17 lead with 1:38 left before intermission. Nolan started the rally with a three-point play, while Cody Paulk and Long also contributed field goals to give the home team a two-possession lead.
Zanoguera singlehandedly kept Toledo within striking distance in the waning moments of the first half and accounted for the teams’ five points to trim the deficit to 22-20 at the break.
GSU’s Long buried a pair of triples to being the second half, extending its margin to 30-25 with 17:02 left in regulation.
The Panthers continued to press the action and six-straight points from Nolan made the score 36-30 at the 10:53 mark.
Toledo then seemed to find its groove offensively for a moment and responded with a game-changing 10-2 run to recapture the lead, 40-38, with 8:06 remaining. Shafir started the burst with a trey, followed by back-to-back layups from Smith and a three-point play by Dortch to give the visitors their first lead since the 4:21 mark in the opening period.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, they were unable to sustain that momentum. With the shots just not falling, UT relied on its defense to maintain its advantage and it delivered. Neither team scored for the next five-plus minutes, until UT’s Smith made a layup with 2:12 left in the contest.
The squads then traded points before Toledo’s defense came up big one more time and forced a pair of misses to maintain the four-point bulge, 44-40, with 33 seconds left.
GSU’s Long broke the dry spell by splitting a pair of free throws, while UT’s Dortch drained both of her charity tosses to increase the margin to 46-41 with 22.3 seconds left, closing out the hard-fought triumph.
Toledo will open up its 32nd MAC season vs. Central Michigan Thursday, Jan. 10. Tipoff at Savage Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on SportsTime Ohio.