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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2007

Rockets ready 2 win MAC championship

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
ASSOCIATED PRESS

It has been quite a while since there has been any talk about "magic numbers" around the University of Toledo men's basketball program.

But that topic has come up again, now that the Rockets are close enough to winning an outright Mid-American Conference regular season championship that somebody has done the math.

Toledo's magic number is not Pi, a googol, or Skewes' Number - a numerical monstrosity developed by South African mathematician Stanley Skewes that is roughly 7 times 10 to the 370th power - give or take a billion.

For the Rockets, their number is simply two.

With two games to play, any combination of Toledo wins and losses by Akron totaling two, and the same combination of Toledo wins and losses by Kent State, again adding up to just two, and the Rockets win their first MAC title in more than a quarter century.

The last time the Rockets hit the magic number and won the MAC outright was 1980, the same year that the U.S. beat Russia in hockey for the gold medal at the Winter Olympics. It was also the same time Post-It Notes first came on the market, John Lennon was assassinated, and Mount Saint Helens erupted.

It has been a while.

Toledo senior Justin Ingram does not want to get all caught up in this numbers game, and not devote his full attention to the real games at hand - tonight against Ball State and Sunday against Central Michigan. The math is pretty simple. Win those two and there is no figuring left to do - the Rockets own the title.

"We just need to take care of business and not let anything faze us," Ingram said. "We can't let what people are saying get into our heads and become complacent. We are playing pretty good right now but we still have two games left so we have to go out there and take care of business."

But Ingram concedes that the outright MAC championship is a very real goal.

"That would be great because that has not been done in over 25 years," he said. "For us to win the regular-season championship would kind of be our mark on the program. That is what you want to do everywhere you go."

MAC West Division champion Toledo (16-11, 12-2) holds a one-game lead over East co-leaders Akron and Kent State in the chase for the MAC overall title after the Rockets won Sunday at Western Michigan by a 79-75 count, in overtime.

Rockets coach Stan Joplin likes the fact that his team is in control of its fate. Although the results of the Akron and Kent State games can certainly expedite Toledo's move toward a regular-season championship, the Rockets really don't need anyone's help.

"Now we have two home games [left], and if we protect our home floor, we will be regular-season champs," Joplin said. "I think it would be great for the players because it hasn't been done in over 25 years. I think that will be something that has not been done in a long time. I think the seniors can leave their legacy and that will be great."

Joplin said the Rockets' unbeaten MAC record at Savage Hall is not a surprise, since Toledo has been so dominant in the building, but the 6-2 MAC road record and the 4-2 mark against the rugged East Division have put the Rockets in position to clinch the title at home.

"If someone would've told me at the beginning of the year that we would have been 4-2 against the East - and I thought 3-3 would be great," Joplin said. "I always have felt that if you win all your home games, and the majority of your road games, then you are in pretty good shape. We have done that so far."

Toledo senior Keonta Howell said the team will stick with the concentration-on-the-task-at-hand approach that has worked all season long. He said playing the decisive final two games at Savage is a significant factor.

"We wanted to be in this position, and this is what we were shooting for," Howell said. "Our fans have been really great, and that has been one of the things that I think has helped us out at home this year. We just come out with so much energy in all those games, and that is because of all those fans."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.

DURHAM, N.C. - Mike Jones scored 25 points and D.J. Strawberry had a pair of baskets during the decisive second-half spurt to lead No. 24 Maryland past No. 14 Duke 85-77.

Strawberry finished with 17 points for the Terrapins (23-7, 9-6 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have won six straight games - all in the conference - to firm up what looked to be a shaky NCAA tournament resume only a few weeks ago.

Ekene Ibekwe also scored 17 points, while freshman Greivis Vasquez added 13 points and 12 assists to help Maryland sweep the season series with the Blue Devils for the second time in three years.

Greg Paulus scored 20 points to lead Duke (22-8, 8-7), which rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to tie it but couldn't push ahead.

The Blue Devils had won four straight since losing at Maryland 72-60, a defeat that dropped the Blue Devils out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 11 years.



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