Justin Anyijong dunks for the Rockets. He finished with 13 points and 17 rebounds.
What a difference a home conference game makes for the University of Toledo.
After two blowout losses to start Mid-American Conference play, the Rockets have responded with two double-digit victories. The second one came last night in a 75-61 win over Central Michigan at Savage Arena.
In a five-minute stretch in the first half UT outscored CMU 13-0, using a stingy zone defense and a soft touch at the free throw line. The Chippewas made a run to start the second half, but the Rockets held their ground.
UT (4-14) is back to even in the MAC at 2-2. Coupled with Saturday's win over Eastern Michigan, the Rockets have won consecutive games for the first time this season.
Toledo's Jonathan Amos looks for help as Central Michigan's Jacolby Hardiman reaches to try to take the ball away.
"I think they appreciate and like the taste of victory," UT coach Gene Cross said. "Now we have to take that next step and come out mentally prepared to try to get a win on the road."
Jonathan Amos led UT with 17 points and three steals. Tyrone Kent added 16 points and five assists. Justin Anyijong had his second double-double of the season with 13 points and 17 rebounds. UT outrebounded the Chippewas (4-12, 1-3) and had a big edge (32-20) in points in the paint.
"We emphasize rebounding and defending," Cross said. "I
don't care who it is, I just want people to throw their body around and scrap for rebounds and loose balls. If we keep that mentality for 40 minutes, it's going to be a baseline for how we're going to be as long as I'm the coach here at the University of Toledo."
With Ian Salter applying pressure, Toledo guard Larry Bastfield, left, reaches for the ball but winds up grabbing the arm of Central Michigan s Robbie Harmon last night at Savage Arena.
In front of the crowd of 4,230, UT didn't win the first four minutes of each half like Cross has been stressing lately. The Rockets fell down 8-2 to start the game and CMU outscored them 13-3 in the opening minutes of the second half.
"Our seniors really came at us and kept on telling us, let's go guys, don't give up," Anyijong said. "That's the type of leadership we have right now."
To regain the momentum, the Rockets started taking the ball to the basket and drawing fouls. UT made a season-high 23 free throws (out of 27) and scored on five straight possessions.
"We focused on going to the hole a lot and not settling for jump shots," senior Ridley Johnson said. "And making our free throws. We've practiced that."
On the other end, UT put in a zone defense that kept CMU out of the paint. The Chippewas missed nine straight 3-pointers and shot 25 percent from long-range.
"If you force them to take more shots than they normally take from behind the arc, you're probably going to win more games than not, because that's not their strength," Cross said.
UT held four of CMU's top five scorers to a combined two points in the first half and was up by 14 at the break. The lead seemed in danger of disappearing completely when the Chippewas starters returned from the locker room fired up and cut the lead to four.
"We came out a little bit complacent," Cross said. "I called a timeout and I let them have it. They deserved it. They responded like I don't think they have all year because they clawed back and fought back."
The Rockets answered by reeling off 10 straight points, six coming from Kent. Johnson scored eight of his 13 points off the bench in the second half.
"Four guys in double figures, we played team ball," Anyijong said.