The Rockets Rashay Russell pushes the ball up the court last night at Ohio. UT fell to 3-4 in Mid-American play.
ATHENS, Ohio - The road had been a difficult undertaking for the University of Toledo all season, with one win in eight tries. It got even more daunting last night, in a Mid-American Conference meeting with Ohio University.
UT senior Keith Triplett, the pre-season favorite for league player of the year honors, sat out a long stretch of the game with a nagging hip injury, and was considerably less than himself when on the floor. With Triplett scoring just seven points, 10 fewer than his average, the Rockets got bounced 76-68 by the Bobcats.
Toledo coach Stan Joplin said Triplett injured his hip a couple of weeks ago, but the former Bowsher star who ranks fifth on UT's career scoring list had been able to play without the ailment impacting his effectiveness. Triplett had scored 48 points in Toledo's previous two games, but took only six shots last night.
"He wasn't himself tonight, and that hurt us a little," Joplin said. "He wasn't going to play, but we decided to put him out there and see how it went. He's hurting, but it's something he might have to play with for a while."
The Rockets (7-9, 3-4) struggled right along with Triplett in the first half, and when he left the game in obvious discomfort midway through the half, Ohio had already built a 24-6 lead. Without Triplett, who did not score in the first half, the Rockets looked disjointed.
"We weren't aggressive against their pressure," Joplin said, "and we almost had that deer-in-the- headlights look. We didn't do a very good job with the press, and they seemed to get their energy from that."
After leading 43-26 at the half after hitting 8 of 11 3-pointers, the Bobcats (9-7, 4-4) stretched it to 50-30 with 17 minutes left in the game. Triplett, who sat out about half of the first 20 minutes, returned to the UT lineup midway through the second half as the Rockets mustered a bit of a run.
UT cut the lead to 64-50 with 6:35 left on a 3-pointer from Sammy Villegas, who led the Rockets with a season-high 18 points. Triplett's only three of the night at the 3:30 mark made it 67-59 and got Toledo within striking distance.
A free throw by Kareem Milson with 2:31 to play got the Rockets within 67-62, but the Bobcats made just enough free throws down the stretch to hang on for the win. Ohio missed five straight from the line while the Rockets worked on the lead. Ohio was 24-39 from the line - 61 percent.
"Our opportunity to put this game away was at the free throw line," Ohio coach Tim O'Shea said. "Take away the terrible free throw shooting, and we probably win this game a lot easier. We always make it interesting."
Triplett came in averaging more than 33 minutes, 16.8 points and 3.07 steals.
Florentino Valencia added 17 points for UT and Justin Ingram had 13. Ohio had five players in double figures, led by Mychal Green's 17 points.
NOTES: Sophomore Keonta Howell, who suffered a concussion in UT's loss at Bowling Green on Saturday, did not dress for last night's game. Sophomore Allen Pinson, who missed three games with a concussion, returned to the lineup and scored four points. ... Saturday's home game against Kent State has been moved to a 2 p.m. start for television (Fox Sports/Ohio).
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