• Toledo (3-6) closes out its non-conference slate and looks to build momentum for league play with a pair of home games beginning Saturday, Dec. 29 vs. Horizon League foe UIC (9-3). Tip-off time for the contest is set for 2:00 p.m. inside Savage Arena.
• The Rockets, who will host Chicago State on New Year's Eve at 1:00 p.m., have played eight of their first nine games this season away from Savage Arena. UT has played the fewest home contests than any Mid-American Conference school with all but Miami (three) enjoying four or more home dates.
• Toledo features the MAC's top scorer with junior G Rian Pearson leading the league at 19.2 ppg. Sophomore G Julius Brown also appears in the Top 10 and is in seventh place with his 14.9 scoring mark.
• Pearson has been named the MAC West Division Player of the Week twice this season and also appears in the league rankings in minutes played (33.8/3rd), steals (1.89 spg/5th), defensive rebounds (4.33 rpg/8th), rebounds (6.2 rpg/10th), field-goal percentage (48.0%/11th) and offensive rebounds (1.89 rpg/13th).
• Toledo has picked up right where it left off as one of the MAC's top free-throw shooting squads. UT tops the conference at 73.4 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark.
• Four of Toledo's six losses have been by six points or less – 84-81 (OT) at Northern Iowa, 78-73 at Cleveland State, 79-73 at Detroit and 72-66 at Florida Gulf Coast.
• Picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League's preseason poll, UIC put together an eight-game winning streak before dropping road decisions at Western Illinois, 70-54, and Miami (Ohio), 82-70, last week.
• The Flames have already surpassed last year's win total (eight) and are led offensively by the trio of senior G Gary Talton (12.8 ppg), senior G Daniel Barnes (12.3 ppg) and junior F Hayden Humes (11.4 ppg).
TOD THE BUILDER
Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk posted a seven-win improvement from Year 1 (10-20) to Year 2 (17-11) at Green Bay. He doubled that feat and more at Toledo last year as UT registered 15 more wins than his first season at the Rocket helm.
When looking at his career record minus his first season at the helm at both Green Bay and Toledo, Coach Kowalczyk's record is 148-115 (.563) overall and 76-58 (.567) in conference play.
TAKING A LOOK BACK AT LAST YEAR'S MEETING WITH UIC
Toledo provided its fans plenty to cheer for in its home opener with an impressive 82-67 victory over UIC (2-3). Rian Pearson continued a torrid start to his first season in a Midnight Blue and Gold uniform by scoring a career-high 27 points and swiping a team-best three steals. Julius Brown matched his season best with 17 points and was the only other UT player scoring in double digits.
Former Rocket F Hayden Humes paced the Flames with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Toledo dominated defensively from the start, jumping out to a 17-3 lead just over five minutes into the contest. The Rockets didn't let up the remainder of the half and took a 45-25 cushion into their locker room.
The closest the Flames could come in the second stanza was within 12 points in the game's final minute.
The Rockets forced UIC to commit 25 turnovers, including 14 turnovers in the first half. The Flames shot just 37.0 percent from the field - 29.4 percent in the opening stanza.
UT posted a 53.1 shooting mark on their side of the court and nearly registered as many free-throw attempts (45) as field-goal attempts (49).
Pearson LOOKS TO DUPLICATE MAC PLAYER OF YEAR-CALIBER SEASON
After making his presence felt immediately in his first season in the MAC last season, junior G Rian Pearson is looking to raise that level of play even higher in the 2012-13 campaign. Pearson finished third in the voting for MAC Player of the Year a year ago and also earned first-team NABC All-District 14 and second-team All-MAC accolades. He is leading the MAC with 19.2 ppg to go along with a team-high 6.2 rpg and 1.9 spg and scored a career-high 30 points in UT's win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 28).
Pearson tied for the MAC scoring lead last year with 16.4 ppg and ranked third with 8.3 rpg (1st with 2.9 offensive rpg). Pearson was a strong defender as well, leading the team with 1.6 spg (T-6th in MAC) and ranking tied for third in the MAC with 1.9 spg in league games only. He tied a school record with seven steals to go along with 19 points and seven rebounds in a career-high 38 minutes vs. Ball State (Jan. 10).
Pearson tallied a season-best 29 points, 12 rebounds and four steals at Akron (Feb. 1) and registered an impressive 18-point, career-high 17-rebound effort against Ohio (Feb. 8). He notched 12 20-point outings, ranked second in the MAC with 10 double-doubles with three of those coming in his last six contests.
MORE RIAN RUMBLINGS
Rian Pearson was the only player to rank in the MAC's Top 10 in points (16.4 ppg/T-1st), rebounds (8.3 rpg/3rd) and steals (1.6 spg/T-6th) last year...Pearson ranked fifth nationally in rebounding among guards last year...Pearson led the Rockets in rebounding a team-high 28 times (including 16 straight games from Jan. 18-Mar. 7), scoring on a team-best 17 occasions and steals 12 times.
Running the Show
After capturing MAC Freshman of the Year honors last year, Julius Brown ranks second on the team this year and is seventh in the MAC with 14.9 ppg. He is also leading the Rockets with 4.3 apg and scored a season-high 25 points in UT's 82-69 win over Samford (Nov. 21).
Brown took over the reins of Toledo's high-powered offense right from the start last year and has started every game of his collegiate career. He has dished out seven or more assists on 16 occasions in his career (career-high 11 vs. McNeese State to go along with 15 pts.) and set a school record for most points scored (427) by a freshman in school history.
Brown was named the MAC West Division Player of the Week twice (Feb. 20, Feb. 27) and also was named the MAC's Freshman of the Month for February. He ranked sixth nationally among freshman in assists and ranked in the MAC's Top 16 in assists (4th/4.9 apg), assist/turnover ratio (6th/1.6) and points (16th/11.9 ppg).
The Markham, IL native tied his season high with 29 points and tied a school record for a MAC game as well with a 90.9 FG% (10-of-11) in UT's 72-67 win over Central Michigan (Feb. 22). Brown's previous season best occurred when he tallied a season-high 29 points with a season-best seven treys at Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 22).
FROM WAY DOWNTOWN
Senior G Dominique Buckley has picked up right where he left off last year as one of the MAC's top long-distance shooters. Buckley leads the team with an 88.2 FT% and ranks second with a 43.2 3PTFG% (16-of-37) and fifth with 8.6 ppg. In UT's 84-81 (OT) loss at Northern Iowa on Nov. 14, Buckley scored a season-high 19 points and tied his career high with five treys (in seven attempts).
In 2011-12, Buckley topped the MAC with an 89.5 free-throw percentage and also knocked down a team-high 1.7 treys per game (T-12th in MAC) and ranked second with a 41.9 3PTFG% (6th in MAC). He also was second on the team with 2.9 apg (15th in MAC), a 1.5 assist/turnover ratio and fourth with 9.7 ppg.
A Romulus, MI native, Buckley played in 27 games in 2009-10 for Iowa State before transferring to Toledo. He averaged 1.4 ppg and 0.9 apg for the Cyclones with a 40.9 3PTFG% (9-of-22) in 7.4 mpg. Buckley enjoyed a standout prep career at Romulus H.S. where he was ranked as the nation's 124th-best player according to ESPN 150 rankings.
SMITH AN INSIDE-OUTSIDE THREAT FOR ROCKETS
Junior F Matt Smith, who is averaging 8.8 ppg and 2.6 rpg with a team-best 47.6 3PTFG%, scored a season-high 20 points at Cleveland State (Dec. 1) and followed that up with 15 points at Detroit (Dec. 5) and 10 at Eastern Illinois (Dec. 8) After missing his first seven three-point field-goal attempts this season, Smith has connected on 11 of his last 14 (78.6%) long-distance shots including his last six attempts from behind the arc. Smith also knocked down all four of his three-point shots en route to 18 points in UT's exhibition victory over Siena Heights (Dec. 18) but that contest doesn't count in the Rockets' official statistics.
Smith ranked sixth in the MAC last year with a team-high 54.0 FG%. The Whitewright, TX native raised his level of play against the MAC's East Division, averaging 10.0 ppg and 5.1 rpg with an 86.4 FT% (19-of-22) in UT's eight contests. Smith scored his MAC season-best 18 points and grabbed six boards against Ohio (Feb. 8).
Smith tied for 10th in the MAC with a team-high 28 blocks (0.8 bpg) and shot a team-high 45.5% (20-of-44) from three-point range.
HOLLIDAY PROVIDES BOARDWORK & DEFENSE FOR ROCKETS
Junior F Reese Holliday has given the Rockets consistent play off the bench and is tied for third on the team with 8.8 ppg and third with 5.0 rpg while playing 26.8 mpg this season. Holliday tallied a season-high 16 points at Cleveland State (Dec. 1) and is possesses a career-high 37.5 3PTFTG% (12-of-32) and 80.8 FT% (21-of-26).
Last year, Holliday ranked second on the team and 13th in the MAC with 5.8 rpg while also receiving the assignment of guarding the opposition's top scorer. He also tied for eighth in the MAC with 4.1 defensive rpg and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds vs. Youngstown State (Dec. 17). Holliday provided a significant impact for the Rockets in the MAC Tournament, averaging 9.3 ppg and 8.0 rpg with a 57.1 3FG% (4-of-7) in three contests.
In 2010-11, Holliday topped the league's freshmen and sophomores and ranked eighth overall in the MAC in his rookie campaign with 6.6 rpg. He also led the league with 2.83 offensive rpg. He also was the first Rocket to record double-digit rebound totals in three straight contests in over 10 years (Greg Stempin-Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2000).
BOOTHE BRINGING IT IN THE POST
Freshman C Nathan Boothe has made an immediate impact in the pivot for the Rockets in his freshman campaign. He ranks ninth in the MAC with a team-high 1.1 bpg and is also averaging 7.6 ppg and 5.1 rpg.
The Gurnee, IL native has started all nine games for UT and scored a season-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting at Cleveland State (Dec. 1). Boothe, who also tallied 13 points and seven boards at Minnesota (Nov. 12), has picked up his defensive play in the post as of late with a season-high three rejections in his last two contests.
Taking Advantage of Charity
Toledo has picked up right where it left off as one of the MAC's top free-throw shooting squads. UT ranks second at 73.4 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark. Only Bowling Green (73.5) is converting at a higher rate than the Rockets.
Senior G Dominique Buckley leads the way with an 88.2 FT% and is followed by junior F Matt Smith (84.0), junior F Reese Holliday (80.8) and junior G Rian Pearson (71.4).
TOLEDO PRODUCES HOMECOURT TURNAROUND
Toledo emerged victorious in its home opener vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Nov. 28 after posting an 11-8 ledger in Savage Arena last season for its first winning home record since the 2007-08 campaign when it registered a 9-3 mark. After experiencing just one losing home campaign (7-9 in 1991-92) in the previous 51 years, the Rockets notched 6-7, 4-11 and 4-12 win-loss marks for a combined 14-30 (.318) ledger over the previous three years (2008-11) in Savage Arena.
Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk posted a 76-28 record (.731) at the Resch Center during his eight-year Green Bay tenure. In his last three seasons, the Phoenix were even better at home by posting a 35-9 (.795) win-loss mark.
Prior to the last three seasons, UT had posted a 55-8 (.873) home record for a five-year period from 2003-08 and was 107-23 (.823) on its homecourt from 1998-2008.
ROCKETS DISPLAYED IMPRESSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2011-12
Toledo produced one of the top turnarounds in college basketball last season with its 15-win improvement from a 4-28 win-loss mark in 2010-11. Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk and his coaching staff inherited a program that had endured three straight losing seasons (11-19 in 2007-08, 7-25 in 2008-09 and 4-28 in 2009-10) after capturing the 2006-07 MAC regular-season title.
Kowalczyk also achieved significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 at UW-Green Bay, going from 10-20 his first season to 17-11 his second year.
Biggest win improvement from 2010-11 to 2011-12:
1. USC-Upstate (5-25 to 21-12).................................................................... 16
2. Toledo (4-28 to 19-17)....................................................................... 15
Indiana (12-20 to 27-8)........................................................................... 15
Manhattan (6-25 to 21-12)....................................................................... 15
Nevada (13-19 to 28-6)........................................................................... 15
RECAPPING ROCKETS' POSTSEASON HISTORY
Toledo made its first appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last year for its first postseason berth since playing in the 2007 National Invitation Tournament. The Rockets have made appearances in four NCAA and six NIT Tournaments during its 97-year history. The Rockets' four NCAA berths came in 1954, 1967, 1979 and 1980, while UT's seven NIT berths came in 1942, 1943, 1981, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2007.
Zach Garber, Jordan Lauf and Jonathan Williams to Join Men's Hoops Program in 2013-14
Toledo Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk announced in the early signing period the addition of three student-athletes — 6-9, 225-pound F/C Zach Garber (Carey, OH), 6-5, 190-pound G Jordan Lauf (Napoleon, OH) and 6-3, 180-pound G Jonathan Williams (Southfield, MI) to the Rockets' program for the 2013-14 campaign.
Garber averaged 19.7 ppg and 12.4 rpg en route to earning second-team Division IV all-state honors as a junior at Vanlue High School. He shot 62 percent from the field, 76 percent from the free-throw line and blocked 57 shots in helping the Wildcats tie for third place (7-2) in the Blanchard Valley Conference and finish 17-4 overall.
A second-team Division II all-state selection, Lauf led Napoleon to the Northern Lakes League title as a junior with a 13-1 league mark and an 18-4 overall ledger. He averaged a league-best 21.9 ppg, ranked second with 9.8 rpg and also dished out 2.8 apg. A standout wide receiver, Lauf has caught 28 passes for 674 yards this fall for an impressive 24.1 ypc and scored 14 touchdowns for a Wildcat squad (11-1-1) that advanced to the Division III regional finals.
A first-team Class A all-state honoree as a junior at Southfield-Lathrup High School, Williams displayed his explosiveness on the offensive end with 28.4 ppg in addition to averaging 6.0 rpg and 5.0 apg.
ON THE HORIZON
The Rockets will close out their non-conference slate at home against Chicago State on Monday, Dec. 31. Tip-off time is set for 1:00 p.m.
Toledo opens MAC play on Wednesday, Jan. 9 at Kent State before hosting Central Michigan in its league home opener on Saturday, Jan. 12. UT will play three of its first four conference games on the road with matchups at Western Michigan (Jan. 16) and Ohio (Jan. 19) following the game vs. the Chippewas.