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Rockets go to Cleveland on a roll

03/09/2017, 12:27am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

But facing Ohio team that won its last 5 of 7

Rockets go to Cleveland on a roll

The University of Toledo men’s basketball team hopes some late-season momentum can carry over into a Mid-American Conference tournament run in Cleveland.

As the Rockets prepare to face No. 2 seed Ohio in a quarterfinal matchup today at Quicken Loans Arena, they hope a win at Eastern Michigan to close the regular season, and a home win Monday against Bowling Green in the tournament’s first round can help lead to an extended stay in Cleveland.

“When you get a big road win against Eastern like we had, it gives you a lot of momentum,” redshirt freshman center Luke Knapke said. “Then beating a big rival in BG at home gives you a lot of momentum going into Cleveland. We have all the pieces. If we put the puzzle together we can definitely make a run.”

RELATED: MAC tournament preview capsule, schedule | Briggs: When will NCAA tournament wait end?

Toledo faces Ohio for the second time this season after defeating the Bobcats 79-76 in Athens on Jan. 24. In the first matchup, UT senior Steve Taylor, Jr., turned in a dominant performance with 25 points and 15 rebounds in one of the biggest wins for the Rockets this season.

The Bobcats come into their first tournament game having won five of their past seven games, and finished tied for second place in the MAC East. Point guard Jaaron Simmons leads the Bobcats with 15.3 points per game and 6.7 assists per game.

UT would have to win three games in three days to earn the conference title. In the MAC, which generally is a one-bid league into the NCAA tournament, playing your best basketball at this time of the year is critical.

“The pressure is on in the conference tournament,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “Let’s face it, all that really matters is trying to win your conference tournament. In order to do that, you have to stay together, you have to stay healthy, you have to make shots and you have to get some breaks.”

Kowalczyk said he is pleased with the way the team is playing down the stretch.

“I think over the last eight or 10 games, we’ve played pretty well,” Kowalczyk said. “Particularly defensively, we have gotten better, excluding the Ball State game. Our defense has gotten better, and that’s what I’m happy with. Offensively, we have gone through some stretches where we have struggled to score or make shots. That was certainly the case in some of those games, but I do like our mentality and how we are playing. And I’ve said all along that if you get to Cleveland anything can happen.”

For UT, the trip to Cleveland is all business, but the players appreciate this time of year when every game takes on a heightened importance.

“It’s definitely a fun time of year,” Knapke said. “The tournament is always fun and the intensity definitely goes up.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

No. 7 Toledo men vs. No. 2 Ohio

■ When: 6:30 p.m.

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland

Records: Toledo is 17-15, Ohio is 19-10

TV: BCSN/​Spectrum Sports

Radio: 1370 AM

Series: Ohio leads 70-57

Notes: Toledo is 1-4 all-time against Ohio in the MAC tournament. ... The Rockets are coming off of a 77-62 win Monday against rival Bowling Green in a first-round tournament game at Savage Arena. ... UT has won at least one MAC tournament game in each trip to Cleveland under coach Tod Kowalczyk. ... The Rockets have won six of their past nine games. ... Senior Jonathan Williams leads UT and is third in the MAC in scoring at 19.7 points per game. ... Senior Steve Taylor, Jr., adds 15.4 ppg, a MAC-best 12.5 rebounds per game and a team high 3.8 assists per game. ... The Bobcats lead the MAC in scoring defense (70.1), field-goal percentage defense (41.4) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (31.8). ... Toledo posted a 79-76 road victory Jan. 24 against Ohio. ... Jaaron Simmons leads Ohio with 15.3 ppg and 6.7 apg. ... Freshman Jason Carter leads the Bobcats in rebounding at 6.4 rpg. ... The winner of this game faces either No. 3 seed Buffalo or No. 6 seed Kent State at 8 p.m. Friday.

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Toledo's Luke Knapke puts up a shot during Monday's win vs. Bowling Green in the MAC tournament. BLADE/LORI KING

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