Saturday, Dec 10, 2016
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Defense has been UT's strong point

While the Toledo men's team struggles to right its sometimes wobbly ship, there has been one constant on the positive side for the Rockets:

As they near the halfway point in the month of January, in which they play nine Mid-American Conference games, the defense has been there for UT.

Against MAC teams, Toledo has allowed only 63.3 points per game, the lowest figure in the league. The Rockets have established those numbers while facing the top-three scoring teams from the MAC in those games - Eastern Michigan (76.0), Buffalo (75.6) and Akron (74.3).

With Ball State visiting Savage Hall tonight, the Rockets will need that defense to even their record in the MAC and stay within striking distance of the leaders in the West Division.

"It's a big game for us because we've lost a couple of tough games on the road in the last week and we need to protect our home court," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "Ball State is a very athletic team with one of the top scoring backcourts in the league and we'll have to come up with the same defensive effort we've been producing."

The Rockets' defense against 3-pointers has been phenomenal, with the opposition shooting only 17.4 percent from long range against UT in conference games.

Toledo also leads the MAC in steals with an average of almost 11 per game, and it has been holding the opposition to just 42 percent shooting from the field, the second- best defensive effort in the league.

The Cardinals, who have won their last two games, split last season's meetings with the Rockets and Joplin expects another spirited duel tonight.

"Ball State is one of the top programs in the MAC," Joplin said. "We've always had very competitive games against them, and this game probably won't be any different."

The Cardinals feature a balanced attack with four players averaging in double figures, led by 6-1 sophomore point guard Peyton Stovall (17.5 points, 3.7 assists) and 6-6 senior forward Terrance Chapman, who averages 15.4 points and 10.1 rebounds.

One main reason the Rockets, the preseason favorites to win both the MAC West title and the MAC tournament championship, are a dismal 5-7 overall at this point in the season is their difficulties on the offensive end.

Toledo ranks last in the MAC in offensive production with a 64.7-point average in league games, and last in shooting accuracy from the field at 40.3 percent.

In a 56-54 loss to Buffalo on the road Sunday, the Rockets shot a season-low 32.8 percent from the field and were held to their lowest point total in a MAC game since a 54-42 win over the Bulls in the 2001-02 season.

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.

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