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Published: Thursday, 2/10/2005

UT defense does it

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

No one came expecting a ballet.

When Bowling Green and Toledo met for the second time in 18 days, they were going to slug it out. They would scrap and tussle, and throw finesse to the wind.

The Rockets prevailed 58-50 by holding the best shooting team in the Mid-American Conference (50 percent) to just 38 percent, and to its lowest point total of the season. Toledo shot just 37 percent, but got more opportunities by forcing 21 Bowling Green turnovers.

"Our offense wasn't pretty, but I was very happy with the effort defensively," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "It's been a hard sell, but I've been telling them that playing good defense can give you the opportunity to win. We played pretty decent defense and we made them work for everything."

With the win, Toledo (11-10, 7-5) inched within a half-game of first place in the MAC West Division behind Western Michigan (8-5), and is locked in a three-way tie for second with Ball State and the Falcons (13-7, 7-5).

BG, a 70-69 winner over the Rockets in their first meeting this season, got in a 13-point hole about 12 minutes into the game, hampered by a dozen first-half turnovers.

"We kept going backwards and we kept dribbling. We had no creativity to us," Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich said. "We took the ball in bad spots, but that's not normally how we play. Credit Toledo and they way they defended us."

Sammy Villegas led the Rockets with 11 points, while Kashif Payne added nine and Keonta Howell, Justin Ingram and Keith Triplett had eight each. Bowling Green's Steven Wright had a career-high 23 points with John Reimold adding 11.

"Defense was a main point of emphasis for us this time around," Howell said, alluding to the fact the Rockets gave up 53 second-half points to Bowling Green in the first meeting. "We wanted to limit their touches as much as we could."

The Rockets allowed Reimold, the MAC's second-most accurate 3-point shooter, only three hurried shots until the final minute of the first half, and he missed them all. Reimold got an open look and drilled a 3-pointer that helped the Falcons cut the Toledo lead to 34-23 at the half.

Toledo held the Falcons' Josh Almanson, the second-leading scorer in the MAC at 17 points per game to just seven points on 2-of-6 shooting. Reimold went 3-of-12 from the field.

"We were really concerned about Reimold and Almanson," Joplin said. "The first time we gave them entirely too many open shots, but our defense was much better tonight, and that was probably the difference."

The Falcons made a run to open the second half, holding the Rockets without a point over an eight-minute stretch and cutting the lead to 34-31 on Reimold's fast-break basket with just under 15 minutes left.

By the nine minute mark the lead was back to nine, but the Falcons cut it to five on Almanson's strong move inside with 3:47 to play, and had several shots at getting closer. Reimold's good look on a 3-point try with 1:17 to play left Toledo up 49-45, and the Rockets hit seven free throws to nail down the win.

"I really liked our shots in the second half," Dakich said, "but we just didn't make them. When you play a team for the second time, you kind of pick things up on each other. That's probably why the score was in the fifties."

Toledo opened its early lead up to as many as 17 points with 1:45 to play in the first half - the same commanding lead UT had held at the half of the first meeting at Anderson Arena.

"A win is a win, and we'll take it any way possible," UT's Anton Currie said. "Sometimes the offense is just not there, and the defense has to do it. Once we got our minds right and started to play defense, things started to come around."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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