Toledo's Ridley Johnson goes airborne for a dunk against Eastern Michigan to score his only points in the game.
Truth in advertising compels that it be stated up front that Eastern Michigan is not a particularly good basketball team. The Eagles entered last night's game at Savage Hall 0-7 in Mid-American Conference play and it wasn't until just 1:18 remained in the first half that EMU had more points than turnovers. Enough said.
But it should also be said that the University of Toledo's performance during the first 17 minutes last night would have gotten the jump on just about any team in the league.
The Rockets broke to a 39-9 lead before a crowd of 3,686 and cruised to their second MAC win in three nights, beating the Eagles 88-58.
UT, pressing throughout, played some of its best defense of the year while dominating in the paint at both ends of the court.
"I thought we took them out of their offense," Rocket coach Stan Joplin said. "We got our energy from defense, which isn't always the case. For a long stretch in the first half we rebounded well and ran well and we got a pretty good flow going."
Tino Valencia notched Toledo's first seven points en route to a career scoring night. Keonta Howell and Anton Currie then cashed in after offensive rebounds. Jerrah Young gave Valencia a breather and immediately drove for two baskets, scoring a three-point play on
Eastern, which did not score its first field goal until 9:35 into the game, trailed by 19-3 after Young's two quick baskets and the Rockets continued to pour it on until a 3-pointer by Howell with 3:40 left in the half made it 39-9.
Toledo was just as relentless at the defensive end, targeting EMU big man John Bowler, who entered leading the MAC in both scoring (19.3 points per game; tied with Bowling Green's Martin Samarco) and rebounding (9.7).
UT's perimeter defenders made it nearly impossible for the Eagles to run any offense and every touch by Bowler was contested by Valencia, Young and others. The EMU standout attempted only three shots in 13 minutes of first-half action and finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, seven of those in the second half.
"We wanted to pressure them and get them out of their sets because so much of what they do goes to Bowler," Valencia said. "It's hard to keep the ball away from him but we did a pretty good job. The coaches told us to make him work hard at both ends."
Valencia was a perfect 9-of-9 from the field en route to a career-high 23 points.
"I wanted to be aggressive," said UT's 6-5 junior, who gives away four inches to Bowler. "He's one of the best big men, if not the best, in the MAC. I knew I'd have to play hard against him. I just focused on making quick moves."
As a team, the Rockets made 32 of 54 shots (a season-high .593) while outscoring the Eagles 50-14 in the paint and 33-14 after turnovers.
Howell made 6 of 8 shots while scoring 17 points while Anton Currie added 11 points and a career-best nine rebounds. UT improved to 10-7 overall and 3-6 in league play.
"That was the Toledo team that was picked to win the [MAC] West," said Charles Ramsey, EMU's first-year head coach. "They played with an intensity, a ferocity. They were very good. They were picking us up from the time we got off the bus. When they play like that I would think they can beat anyone in the conference."
NOTES: Freshman guard Tyrone Kent, who was inactive during UT's previous five games while dealing with academic issues, returned last night and scored his first basket on a short, lean-in jumper with 8:40 left in the first half. He added a monster dunk off a feed from Jonathan Amos in the second half. EMU (3-13, 0-8) attempted just seven shots in the first 12 minutes of play. The Eagles had 11 turnovers by that time and didn't have more points than turnovers until the score was 43-16. Amos matched his season high with five steals as the Rockets totaled 15. Guard Justin Ingram scored four points, all on free throws, marking just the second time he has failed to reach double figures this season.
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