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Published: Monday, 3/5/2001

Rockets make magic marks, still Savage fans disappear

Think you know college basketball? When you watch, do you know what you are watching?

When was the last time you attended a University of Toledo game?

From the look of things, not nearly enough fans have been showing up at Savage Hall. The Rockets' last official sellout occurred when Toledo upset Ohio State two years ago.

News flash: The Rockets recently became the first UT team in 20 years to record 20 victories.

Last year, the Rockets won 18 games. The season before that 19.

One man who claimed to be a UT supporter told me recently he doesn't go to Rocket games because local corporations bought all of the good seats.

Last time I checked, the Rockets always have good seats available. Maybe the gentleman would like to sit on the bench next to the team. Don't laugh. They're very accommodating at UT. I believe something can be arranged.

Another man who follows UT athletics told me he's no longer a big basketball fan because things haven't been the same since Bob Nichols left.

I'm sure there are a lot of other people who probably feel the same way.

Nichols, the all-time winningest coach in Mid-American Conference and UT history, coached the Rockets brilliantly from 1965-1987. He still has a legion of supporters.

Nichols's teams won five MAC championships (including three straight from 1978-81) and went to the NCAA Tournament three times. In 1976-77, the Rockets upset Indiana the year after the Hoosiers won the national title. Two years later, UT stunned Iowa in the NCAA Tournament on Stan Joplin's shot at the buzzer.

Nichols was the last UT coach to win 20 games before Joplin did it this year. It will be interesting to see how much the student (Joplin) learns from the teacher (Nichols) in his maturation as a coach.

It will be even more interesting to see how many people attend UT's first-round MAC Tournament game against Eastern Michigan tonight at Savage Hall.

The optimist in me wants to believe there will be a large, boisterous crowd in the old arena out of respect for what the Rockets have accomplished so far. But because I believe in leaving nothing to chance, here are a few more good reasons why you should consider going to the game:

Senior forward Greg Stempin. Stempin ranks fourth all-time in points scored and is No.7 all-time in rebounds at UT. He is one of only four players in school history to rank among the top 10 in both career points and rebounds.

Freshman guard Terry Reynolds. One of the most decorated recruits in school history, Reynolds is third in the MAC in assists and fourth in steals. He scored 36 points in his second college game against Auburn and had 29 points against Ball State on Saturday.

UT is the MAC's best-kept secret. UT is the only team in the MAC to defeat three top-50 teams (Cincinnati, Auburn and Creighton), giving the Rockets the best chance in the conference of gaining an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament if they don't win the MAC Tournament.

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.

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