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Published: Thursday, 1/31/2008

Half-bad UT falls at Akron

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Akron's Chris McKnight rebounds over Toledo's Justin Anyijong last night at Rhodes Arena. McKnight had three rebounds. Akron's Chris McKnight rebounds over Toledo's Justin Anyijong last night at Rhodes Arena. McKnight had three rebounds.
LEW STAMP / AKRON BEACON JOURNAL Enlarge

AKRON - In a place, Rhodes Arena, where Mid-American Conference teams hadn't won in two dozen tries, the University of Toledo men's basketball team came out amped up and on fire.

Missed fast-break layups and general sloppiness caught up with the Rockets against Akron, though, leading to a season-worst second half.

UT squandered a 14-point first-half lead and lost 68-52 to Akron last night. The Rockets had just five second-half baskets. Akron made 12 3-pointers, nine in the second half, to hand UT its 13th loss of the season.

The Rockets (6-13) fell to 3-4 in the MAC. It's the first in a stretch of four of six on the road for UT.

"The first half we shared the basketball, we played pretty well," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "We got a lead. And then all of a sudden, we didn't want to play that way anymore. Our shot selection wasn't what it needed to be. We just kind of self-destructed."

Anthony Byrd led UT with 12 points and Jerrah Young added 11 points and six rebounds. UT's two leading scorers, Tyrone Kent and Jonathan Amos, combined to go 3-of-22 from the field.

For a half the Rockets threatened to challenge the Zips' 23-game MAC home win streak. UT made 7 of its first 10 shots, including its first four 3-pointers.

The Rockets forced Akron's guards into mistakes and played up-tempo. With 5:43 left in the first half UT led 30-16.

But in one stretch, the Rockets forced three turnovers and missed three ensuing layups.

The lapse allowed the Zips to get back into the game. Akron cut UT's lead to five at halftime and had the lead for good with 12:19 remaining.

"I think [the misses] would hurt any team, but I think it hurts us because we're not mentally tough enough to get over that," Joplin said. "We miss, and our guys hang their heads."

The Rockets had none of the same defensive energy in the second half. Three 3-pointers gave the Zips their first lead, and they kept getting open from outside.

On the other end, a half-court trap accounted for several of the Rockets' 18 turnovers. UT had a season-low 19 second-half points.

"We didn't come out with the same intensity, which happens a lot, we don't put two halves together," Byrd said. "We've really got to work on that."

Kent, the leading scorer in the MAC at 18.3 points per game, scored just three points. He had six assists in the first half. But his first two 3-point attempts were airballs, and he couldn't finish at the basket, shooting just 1-of-8.

"We made him work up the floor," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. "Once we put [Nate] Linhart on him. Linhart's one of the best defenders in this league. He had a long night from the work perspective. I thought the full court affected his half court."

Akron (15-5, 5-2) is 51-2 under Dambrot at home. The Zips won despite low production from banged-up seniors Jeremiah Wood and Cedrick Middleton.

Freshman Steve McNees came off the bench for Akron to make 4-of-5 3-pointers and lead the team with 16 points. Six-foot-10 Mike Bardo had four blocks in stifling the Rockets' penetration.

Darryl Roberts from St. Francis de Sales made his first career start for the Zips. Roberts, who became academically eligible to play at the start of the second semester after sitting out a year and a half, made his first four shots en route to a 12-point game,

"There's a little bad blood, a little bit," Roberts said of his feelings toward UT. "I don't really want to speak on that. I just wanted to play hard."

Contact Maureen Fulton at: mfulton@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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