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Published: Wednesday, 11/23/2005

UT after tighter 'D' in home opener

The University of Toledo men's basketball team will play its home opener tonight, starting a stretch of the schedule that will find the Rockets playing seven of eight games at Savage Hall.

Wright State University from Dayton will be tonight's opponent. Tipoff is 7 p.m.

Both teams are hoping to rebound from season-opening losses on the road.

UT fought back in the second half to make the score respectable in an 85-73 setback against South Carolina, the defending NIT champion.

Wright State, meanwhile, dropped an 86-80 decision to Belmont College in Nashville, Tenn.

Guard DaShaun Wood, the leading returning scorer for the Raiders with a 15.2-point average last season, hit 10 of 16 shots from the field and scored 29 points in the loss at Belmont.

Wright State's inside game is led by 6-6 forward Drew Burleson, who scored 14 in the opener.

UT coach Stan Joplin will be looking for improved defense after his squad allowed South Carolina to shoot 53 percent from the field.

The Rockets, who shot 39 percent, outscored the Gamecocks by nine points in the second half, but were unable to dig out of a 50-29 halftime hole.

Florentino Valencia got a starting nod in the post against South Carolina and responded with 8-of-11 shooting en route to team highs of 17 points and seven rebounds.

Sammy Villegas, expected to start on the wing, instead came off the bench and made five 3-pointers for all of his 15 points.

Keonta Howell also was hot from long distance with four treys bumping his 14-point total.

The Rockets will play at Southern Methodist on Sunday, then return to Savage Hall a week from tonight against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne to begin a six-game homestand.

- Dave Hackenberg

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