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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Rockets steal win against Eastern Michigan

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - The University of Toledo men's basketball team took a minute or six yesterday to remember how it wins basketball games.

Once that happened, no shooting or rebounding deficiencies - or food poisoning, for that matter - could stop the Rockets.

UT used 17 steals to knock off Eastern Michigan 62-54 in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena.

"I don't know how many [steals] we had, but we needed every one," UT coach Stan Joplin said.

The Rockets (19-11) advance to play fourth-seeded Miami tonight at 7 in the semifinals.

Because starters Florentino Valencia and Kashif Payne were not feeling the greatest, points off turnovers became even more paramount for UT than usual.

But the Rockets fell down 11-4 early, with three of the No. 8 seed Eagles' baskets coming on

layups.

UT started the game 1-of-8 from the field.

"They were getting all the hustle points," Joplin said. "I thought they were competing, and we were standing around watching. We looked really winded."

At the first media timeout Joplin sent in four fresh players, including sophomore Jonathan Amos. The Rockets got four steals in three minutes for fastbreak baskets. Amos scored seven straight points to give the Rockets the lead.

Whenever the Eagles (13-19) were able to get the ball past half court, the Rockets were having trouble defending their post players. Freshman Shane Ross had to play some minutes in place of Valencia down low, and Eagles freshman Justin Dobbins scored 12 points in the first half.

But the Rockets, led by Justin Ingram (six steals) and Amos (five), kept the pressure on, leading to EMU coach Charles Ramsey benching point guard Jarred Axon. The Eagles had 21 turnovers.

"That's what we were hoping to do, that's what we hope to do every game," Ingram said. "We have to come out and play with a lot of intensity."

The Rockets have won six in a row over EMU. Ingram led UT's balanced scoring with 14 points, although the rim wasn't kind to him. Amos had 13, Tyrone Kent added 11 and Valencia 10.

Amos also added seven rebounds and three blocks and seemed to be involved in every momentum-changing play for the Rockets.

"We had a couple guys who were under the weather, so I just tried to keep the team up," Amos said.

Valencia and Payne suffered possible food poisoning earlier in the week. They will be fine for tonight, but Keonta Howell might not be. He hurt his foot in the second half and did not return.

Well after yesterday's game, UT officials said he would try to play tonight.

After leading by three at halftime, the Rockets fell behind briefly early in the second half. Valencia scored three straight baskets to give UT the lead for good. UT was up by as many as 12 in the second half before the Eagles cut it back to seven with five minutes, but Valencia got an offensive rebound and was fouled while making the putback to seal the win.

"Coach has been on us about rebounding," Valencia said. "I just want to help the team rebound as much as I can."

The Rockets were outrebounded by 13 and shot just 39 percent. Jump shooters Ingram, Payne and Howell were a combined 9-of-36 (25 percent). But UT got 28 points off turnovers.

"The shooting percentages probably in a lot of conference tournaments are down, just because everyone knows everyone," Joplin said. "You have to find a way to get yourself some easy baskets. Our way is get some turnovers for some layups."

Dobbins led EMU with 16 points and Devon Dumes added 14.

"Like I said before, [the Rockets] are the class of the conference and hopefully they will be able to go and finish up the season," said Ramsey, EMU's coach. "They've had a great year to date."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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