March 11, 2006
CLEVELAND (AP) - Justin Ingram scored 23 points and Toledo stormed back from 13 points down in the second half to advance to the Mid-American Conference championship for the first time since 1996 with a 77-69 semifinal win over Akron on Friday night.
The Rockets (20-10), who have had to come back all season after beginning conference play at 1-6, will meet top-seeded Kent State in Saturday's title game. The Golden Flashes advanced with a 72-59 win over Ohio in the other semifinal.
The Rockets won their only conference tournament title in 1980.
Anton Currie hit a crucial 3-pointer with 1:59 left, and Tyrone Kent stole a lazy inbounds pass and went in for a layup 13 seconds later to fuel Toledo's comeback.
Toledo outscored Akron 30-10 over the final 13 minutes.
Florentino Valencia added 18 points for Toledo, which won its seventh straight game and 10th in a row against MAC schools.
Romeo Travis had 14 points and Darryl Peterson 13 to lead Akron (22-9), which was playing in its first semifinal, but didn't show any nerves until the final minutes.
Trailing by 13 early in the second half, the Rockets appeared to be in big trouble as shots clanged off the rim.
But Toledo began to find its range and confidence along with it. Down 59-50, Sammy Villegas hit a jumper with 10:22 left and Kent stripped Dru Joyce under Akron's basket for a layup eight seconds later.
Ingram's jumper brought the Rockets within 60-59, and they finally caught Akron at 64-all when the 6-foot-5 Valencia posted up the 6-foot Joyce down low for an easy layup.
Currie's 3-pointer made it 68-64, and after a timeout, Kent anticipated a pass near mid-court, swiped it and went in to make it 70-66.
Cedrick Middleton's 3-pointer got Akron within three, but Toledo made five free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal it.
Shooting nearly 65 percent from the field, the Zips led by 12 points in the first half and were coasting when they hurried some shots that left Akron coach Keith Dambrot stomping his foot in frustration.
Toledo took advantage of Akron's impatience as Ingram buried a 3-pointer and the Rockets cut it to five and were only down 40-34 at halftime.