RANDY SNYDER / AP Enlarge
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The five-hour bus ride from Toledo to Marshall University has historically produced a sore back, weak legs, and a general head-to-toe lethargy.
The theory is that by the time you bisect the Buckeye State and cross the Ohio River to complete the arduous trip, you don't have enough energy left to play the game.
Last night, the University of Toledo was an energized and high-powered basketball team for the first 20 minutes, when the Rockets built an 18-point lead. They needed all of that in order to survive a frantic second-half push by Marshall, hanging on for a 83-74 win.
The Rockets, pre-season favorites to win the conference this season, won for the first time on the road in MAC play, evening their record at 7-7 and moving to 3-2 in the MAC West Division. It was also the first win here in Huntington for UT coach Stan Joplin. Marshall (3-11, 0-5) leaves the MAC after this season.
"From a confidence standpoint, we needed something like this to happen," Joplin said. "Marshall's record is very deceiving, because their non-conference schedule is very tough, just like ours. We knew they'd make a run, but we made a run and we withstood their run."
While senior Keith Triplett led the Rockets with 22 points, sophomore Keonta Howell finished off the Herd with two dead-eye 3-pointers in the final three minutes on his way to a 17-point night. After a baseline jump shot by A.W. Hamilton cut Toledo's lead to 69-67, Howell nailed a triple from the wing. With the lead then at four with just under a minute to play, Howell buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 77-70 and essentially settle the issue.
"Keonta hit some big plays for us, and he played well," Joplin said. "We hit some shots, and in the previous games we would go through droughts, and this is the first time we didn't go through one."
The Rockets, who for a significant part of the season have been the gang that couldn't shoot straight, came out absolutely on fire against the Thundering Herd. Toledo hit 15-of-22 shots in the first half for 68 percent, and finished 28-of-50 for the game for 56 percent.
"We hadn't shot the ball well, but we told them to just go out and shoot it - to try and be positive," Joplin said. "I think tonight they started to believe in that."
Ignited by their deadly shooting, the Rockets swarmed all over Marshall and led 34-16 with five minutes left in the first half. To that point, Toledo had hit 14 of its first 18 shots, and four of five 3-point tries.
"They hit some shots and then held us off at the other end, but we just didn't play hard to start the game," Marshall coach Ron Jirsa said. "And we really got behind by a big margin. That was just a big margin, and it's tough to come all the way back from that."
A different Marshall emerged in the second half. The Herd hit the boards with a sense of purpose, and found the range from 3-point land. A triple from Hamilton quickly cut the UT lead to 41-31. The Herd moved into the bonus situation with 14 minutes to play, and a couple of free throws from Enoch Bunch reduced the Rockets' lead to 51-44.
The Herd missed a couple of chances to tie it, but got the lead down to 61-59 on David Anderson's dunk with 7:34 left. The Rockets built it back up to 67-59 when Triplett took advantage of a double-team to feed an open Anton Currie for an easy inside basket.
"We needed to make some plays and have them make some mistakes down the stretch, and they didn't do that," Jirsa said.
Florentino Valencia added 15 points for Toledo, while Hamilton led Marshall with 20.
After trailing briefly very early in the game, the Rockets took the lead for good on Justin Ingram's fastbreak layup with 14 minutes left in the first half. After Ingram and Currie hit 3-pointers from out front, the UT lead swelled to 24-10 midway through the first half. A triple by Howell stretched it to 34-16, and the UT lead stayed at around 18 points until the final two minutes of the half when Marshall mounted a flurry and cut it to 41-28 at the break.
Toledo's 6-9 sophomore center Allen Pinson, who took a blow to the head late in a loss at Buffalo a week ago and suffered an apparent concussion, missed his second straight game.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.38.41983 -82.44537