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HomeSportsUT
Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

UT survives on defense down the stretch

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Sammy Villegas scored 10 points as the Rockets remained unbeaten at Savage Hall. Sammy Villegas scored 10 points as the Rockets remained unbeaten at Savage Hall.
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Living dangerously almost cost the University of Toledo a critical Mid-American Conference game last night. Then the Rockets got defensive about things.

Trailing in the closing minutes on their home floor, the Rockets (14-4, 8-2) had to shut out Ball State over the final 3:42, and then get four free throws from Keith Triplett in the final 13 seconds to take a 66-63 win over the Cardinals.

“We finally played defense,” UT coach Stan Joplin said. “Down the stretch, for the last seven possessions, I don t think they scored. I think that s probably what won the game for us.”

Ball State (8-8, 5-3) went on top 63-60 on a 3-pointer by Matt McCollom with a bit under four minutes left. The Cardinals missed a couple of chances to expand the lead, and then UT freshman Justin Ingram scored on a layup with 1:27 to play to make it a one-point game.

The Cardinals turned the ball over three times in the final minute and 15 seconds, but it wasn t until just 13 seconds remained in the game that Triplett hit a pair from the line to put UT in front 64-63.

Ball State had the ball under its own basket with five seconds left after Ricardo Thomas blocked a shot out of bounds, and when McCollom tried to lob a pass to Robert Owens cutting to the basket, Ingram tipped the ball away and into the hands of Triplett, who was immediately fouled and hit both shots with three seconds left.

“Justin made a good tip on that play, and I m the guy who has to be at the line,” said Triplett, who led Toledo with 26 points. “I don t feel no pressure. I just play ball.”

Ball State s Skip Mills missed a 3-point try from deep in the corner as time expired, allowing the Rockets to stay just a game behind front-running Western Michigan in the MAC West.

“We needed this game,” Triplett said. “If we lose, we d fall two games behind Western Michigan and we can t do that. We have to win all of our home games.”

The Cardinals chose to run some time off the clock on several of their possessions in the waning moments of the game, and twice threw the ball out of bounds before getting a shot.

“We didn t make very good decisions,” Ball State coach Tim Buckley said. “We were trying to steal some time off the clock, and trying to minimize the possessions so we would not have to play a big possession at the end.”

After leading by nine several times in the first half, and by as many as eight points with under seven minutes to play in the game, the Rockets could not put the Cardinals away. Ball State tied the game at 60 with 4:36 to play, and then took the lead before struggling through the final minutes.

“When we start off with a big lead, I don t know what happens,” Triplett said, “but we can t keep the lead.”

Less than five minutes into the game, Triplett stepped out and hit a 3-pointer after a steal by Allen Pinson. That gave Toledo a 12-6 lead and it gave Triplett 10 points after he had been held to five in the loss Sunday at Kent State.

Toledo, unbeaten in eight home games this season, gave up the lead in the first minute of the second half, and didn t get it back until just 12 minutes remained in the game when a free throw by A.J. Shellabarger gave the Rockets a 46-45 advantage. Toledo went up 59-51 on a 3-pointer by Sammy Villegas with seven minutes to play before Ball State went on a 12-1 run to take the 63-60 lead with just under four minutes to play.

“We got some stops and some turnovers down the stretch, which doesn t really happen with this team,” Joplin said about the closing minutes of the game.

“Every game has to have a sense of urgency because we want to stay right on Western Michigan s heels.”



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