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Published: Thursday, 12/9/2010

IPFW drops Rockets to 0-9

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- A much-needed victory once again eluded the University of Toledo men's basketball team Wednesday night.

The Rockets (0-9) committed too many turnovers and allowed Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne too many open looks from 3-point range as the Mastodons prevailed 78-65 in front of 1,923 at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

The defeat was Toledo's 37th straight road loss dating back to the beginning of the 2008-09 season.

IPFW (6-2) drained 11 of 27 3-point shots, including 10-of-18 in the first half, and never trailed in the contest.

Ben Botts was 8-of-12 from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 at the foul line to lead the Mastodons with 22 points, while Zach Plackemeier swished five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points.

"We knew they could shoot coming in," said UT freshman forward Reese Holliday, who tied junior walk-on guard Jay Shunnar with a team-high 17 points.

"We just needed to play better defense and tonight they were the better team," Holliday added.

The Rockets also hurt themselves with 19 turnovers and a 39 percent shooting effort in the second half after knocking down a season-best 55 percent of their shots before halftime, when they trailed 38-34.

"Turnovers is one of the things that we pinpoint the most," Holliday said. "Those turnovers can get us out of the game real quick, and we know we need to limit those."

IPFW jumped ahead 14-3 with three triples from Plackemeier in the first five minutes and led 31-20 following Botts' 3-pointer from the right arc with 8:06 left in the first half.

But Toledo fought back with a 10-2 run over the next four minutes and went into the break with momentum on its side.

"We came out and had three turnovers on our first three possessions, but we responded and had great team grit," UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said.

The Rockets stayed close with IPFW in the first few minutes of the second, but freshman guard J.T. Thomas went down with an apparent right leg injury at the 18:38 mark and it was too much for them to overcome.

Kowalczyk had "no idea" of the extent of Thomas' injury after the game, but it was evident that a shortened bench was significant, as the Rockets faded quickly.

By the 9:51 mark, the Mastodons had completed an 11-2 run that gave them a 59-45 advantage -- their largest lead of the game -- and UT came no closer than eight the rest of the way.

"It was a game we should have won," Holliday said. "The second half we didn't do the things we know we need to do as a team to win. We didn't give the same effort that we gave in the first half."

A 73-72 victory over IPFW at Savage Arena was one of the Rockets' four wins last season, but it was a different story Wednesday night against a sharp-shooting Mastodon squad that is already 2-0 in Summit League play and is off to its best start since joining the Division I ranks in 2001.

"They have tough kids," IPFW coach Dane Fife said of Toledo. "They're young, and they were young last year. They've got good, young players and there's no question Toledo's going to be a good basketball team. When the [Mid-American Conference schedule] comes around, I think they've got a chance to be really good.

"Look out. I'm just happy we played them early in the year."

For now, the Rockets continue to struggle with snapping the longest losing streak to start a season in school history.

Their next chance to get a victory is Saturday when they take on Valparaiso at Savage Arena.

"There's certainly frustration, because they are working hard and they need to have some success," Kowalczyk said. "But we don't talk about the record. We don't talk about it. It's about us getting better every game, and I thought tonight for the most part we got better from last week."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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