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HomeSportsUT
Published: Monday, 2/26/2007

UT wears down Western Michigan

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

KALAMAZOO, Mich. - The steady stream of turnovers didn't cost Western Michigan much in the first half because the Broncos were shooting like they always do at home - lights out.

But as the game against the University of Toledo went on, and the Rockets got more and more takeaways, suddenly the Broncos' passes weren't as sharp and the gimme baskets were bouncing out.

"When you play [with] pressure, it might not take its toll until late in the game," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "You want them to become more hesitant, where they don't play with a lot of confidence. We just kind of wear some teams down."

Despite horrid 3-point and free-throw shooting, the Rockets pressured the Broncos enough to force overtime and came up with six more turnovers in the extra period. The result was a 79-75 UT victory, one that gives the Rockets the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Mid-American Conference tournament heading into the final week of the season.

"For us to pull it off in overtime, it feels really good," senior Keonta Howell said. "That says something about our team that we could be down and get this victory."

It was the Rockets' first win in University Arena since 2002 and the second straight close victory on the road. Howell led all scorers with 21 points, and Florentino Valencia scored 20.

The Broncos finished with 25 turnovers to offset UT's 4-of-22 night from 3-point land and 5-of-14 effort from the line.

The Rockets, 16-11 and 12-2 in the MAC, play their final two games at home with a one-game lead over both Kent State and Akron.

The game started with a battle down low between Valencia and WMU junior Joe Reitz. Reitz, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, at times had it easy. But Valencia kept working and ended up fouling him out of the game.

"He plays hard and smart," Valencia said. "I had to play hard with him every time."

WMU (13-15, 7-7) shot 61 percent in the first half and led by five at halftime. In the second half, offensive rebounding and sophomore Jonathan Amos brought the Rockets back.

Amos scored eight of his 12 points in the final five minutes of regulation and opened overtime with a steal and a layup. He was part of a team strategy to drive on the Broncos' zone in the second half.

"In the first half, we were trying to shoot our way over the zone," Howell said. "At halftime the coaches said, attack the zone, attack the zone."

The Rockets had 16 offensive rebounds, tying a season high and leading to 12 second-chance points. Howell and Amos had four each.

"Usually a lot of the guys don't go [to the boards], they're on the perimeter just standing," Joplin said. "Their teammates got on them about going to the basket. That was a big difference. That can be an offensive weapon that we really have to take advantage of."

Amos tied the game with 36 seconds left in regulation on a rebound and putback. He was fouled but missed the free throw and missed again on his second chance when WMU was called for a lane violation.

The Broncos held the ball for the final shot, but point guard Michael Redell lost the ball underneath. Redell finished with a game-high eight turnovers, and fellow guard Shawntes Gary had six.

In overtime, WMU made 3-of-4 shots but mostly couldn't hang onto the ball.

UT missed five free throws in the period, though, so the Broncos had another chance to win or tie at the end. This time, Gary passed the ball into the bench with two seconds left.

Justin Ingram, who missed all nine of his 3-point attempts, put the game out of reach by hitting two foul shots.

WMU coach Steve Hawkins, who was called for a technical foul in overtime arguing a traveling violation, was frustrated with not having fouls called on some of the Broncos' turnovers.

"They foul a lot and get away with it," Hawkins said. "If you don't get it called, then there's a good chance you're going to turn the ball over, and today we turned it over too much."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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