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Published: Wednesday, 1/17/2007

Strong second half lifts UT over EMU

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

YPSILANTI, Mich. - There are two ways to attack a zone defense - the easy way and the way that works.

Toledo's Rockets first tried the easy approach last night against Eastern Michigan. Just fire it up. Eight minutes into the game, UT was 3-of-11 from the field and had zero rebounds. Those numbers don't often add up favorably.

So the Rockets had to go to work, because the way that works is usually hard work.

UT turned up the heat on defense, shifted its transition game into high gear behind point guard Kashif Payne, and finally found a hot hand from the perimeter - Keonta Howell's - to nail down a 66-56 victory over the Eagles at the Convocation Center.

The Rockets won a third straight road game for a 4-0 start in Mid-American Conference play and evened their overall mark at 8-8.

Down by seven points at the 12:00 mark of the first half, UT fought back to get even with back-to-back inside baskets by Tino Valencia and were happy to be tied 28-28 at halftime after being outshot and badly outrebounded.

Less than three minutes into the second half, though, UT had a 39-30 lead and never trailed again.

"It started with our defense in the second half," said Toledo coach Stan Joplin. "That got us in transition, Kashif played fast and penetrated, and we got more post touches and easy baskets. We didn't have the effort we needed to beat a zone in the first half, but in the second half we made some plays."

Valencia got a long feed from Justin Ingram on UT's opening play of the second half and was ruled to have been intentionally fouled on the fast break. He made both free throws, and Howell hit a fadeaway as Toledo maintained the ensuing possession.

Then it was Payne getting a step on the defense, penetrating, and being fouled on two straight drives. On UT's next possession, Eastern's defense sagged on his drive, and he kicked a pass out to Howell, who bagged a 3-pointer for the nine-point lead.

"[Eastern] outworked us in the first half, so we had to bring more energy," said Payne, who had 12 points and four assists. "I had to try and create shots for myself. That kept them on their heels, and they couldn't get back in the zone. Plus, when they did, somebody had to help on me, and I could dump it to Tino or the guys on the wing."

His wing men - Howell, Ty Kent, and Ridley Johnson - all hit big 3-pointers, but Howell truly found a hot hand and tied his career high with five 3s. He led the Rockets with 18 points and had six rebounds.

"Kashif was playing real fast, and they couldn't guard him," Howell said. "He got it out to me, and I was able to knock a few down."

Howell was 4-of-4 from 3-point range in the second half as the Rockets built leads of as many as 12 points.

"Keonta has been struggling a little with his shot, but he's been in the gym a lot working on it, and it was nice to see him step up," Joplin said. "You could see him get more confident with every shot."

Valencia had 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting and added five rebounds. Kent came off the bench to score nine points and bag three steals. Ingram, who had his low point total of the season - he was 1-of-8 shooting and scored three points - also had three steals.

Those helped boost Eastern Michigan's turnover total to 22 as the Eagles fell to 7-10 overall, 2-2 in MAC play.

NOTES: With Central Michigan and Northern Illinois losing last night, every team besides UT in the MAC West already has two losses in league play Toledo outscored EMU 20-8 after turnovers UT was outrebounded 31-17, but actually led in the second half by a 16-13 margin Carlos Medlock scored 18 points for EMU, but also led the Eagles with five turnovers UT is 4-0 in MAC play for the first time since the 2000-01 season The Rockets have won 11 straight conference games. The school record is 14 in a row This was Toledo's fourth straight win over Eastern, and the Rockets are now 7-2 all-time at EMU's Convocation Center.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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