Rockets to Host Central Michigan in MAC Home Opener on Saturday - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

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Rockets to Host Central Michigan in MAC Home Opener on Saturday Night

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TOLEDO- Toledo (5-7, 1-0 MAC) looks to build momentum from Wednesday's 70-58 victory at Kent State when it hosts Central Michigan (8-6, 1-0 MAC) on Saturday, Jan. 12. Tip-off time for the contest is set for 7:00 p.m. The Rockets' win over the Golden Flashes was their first in a conference opener in five years and also ended a five-game losing streak against KSU.

• UT has played the fewest home contests (three) of any MAC school. The Rockets are now opening league play with three of their first four games on the road with trips to Kent State, Western Michigan and Ohio.

•  Toledo features the MAC's top scorer with junior G Rian Pearson leading the league at 19.8 ppg. Sophomore G Julius Brown also appears in the Top 10 and is in 10th place with his 13.0 scoring mark.

•  Pearson has been named the MAC West Division Player of the Week twice this season and surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his collegiate career against Chicago St. on Dec. 31.

•  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 77.4 percent (and ranks 12th in the nation as of Jan. 6) after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark.

•  Five of Toledo's seven losses have been by six points or less – 84-81 (OT) at Northern Iowa, 78-73 at Cleveland State, 58-53 loss vs. Chicago State, 79-73 at Detroit and 72-66 at Florida Gulf Coast.

•  First-year head coach Keno Davis has Central Michigan off to its best start since  it opened the 2002-03 campaign with an 8-3 ledger. The Chippewas, who posted a 73-67 win over Bowling Green on Wednesday, rank second in the MAC with a 73.2 FT% behind Toledo's 77.4 mark.

•  Senior guard Kyle Randall leads the MAC with a 91.7 FT% and ranks third in league scoring at 16.6 ppg in his first season in a CMU uniform.

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 150-116 (.564) overall and 77-58 (.570) in conference play.

TALKING CONFERENCE OPENERS

      Toledo's win at Kent State on Wednesday was its first in a Mid-American Conference opener since a 58-54 home victory over Ball State on Jan. 6, 2008...The Rockets are 7-1 all-time vs. Kent State in MAC openers...UT has an all-time mark of 34-28 in MAC openers, but holds a 15-19 ledger in road lidlifters...Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk posted a 5-3 mark in Horizon League openers at Green Bay.

AMONG NATION'S BEST AT 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 tops the conference and ranks 12th nationally (as of Jan. 6) at 77.4 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark. Davidson tops the nation with an amazing 80.6 FT% with Central Michigan (73.2-2nd), Ohio (72.5-3rd), Bowling Green (71.7-4th) and Kent State (70.3-5th) ranking behind UT in the MAC.

      The Rockets have topped the 80 percent mark in a game on six occasions, including a school-record 20-of-20 vs. Chicago State (Dec. 31). UT shot 88.9 percent (16-of-18) at Kent State (Jan. 9) and had a streak of 28 straight free throws made.

     Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk is no stranger to strong free-throw shooting squads. His 2008-09 Phoenix squad finished the season ranked second nationally in free-throw shooting percentage at 78.7 percent.

TAKING AN INDIVIDUAL LOOK AT UT'S FREE-THROW SHOOTING

      Senior G Dominique Buckley leads the way with an 88.2 FT% and is followed by junior F Matt Smith (87.9), junior F Reese Holliday (84.4), junior G Rian Pearson (75.5) and sophomore G Julius Brown (75.5).

      Pearson sank a career-best 16 free throws against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi which are tied for third most in a game in school history.

ROCKETS VS. CMU IN 2011-12

      Junior G Rian Pearson led the Rockets last year vs. CMU with 17.0 ppg and 10.3 rpg, including a 20-point, 15-rebound effort in UT's second-round MAC Tournament victory at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

      Sophomore G Julius Brown averaged 16.3 ppg and tied a school record by hitting 10-of-11 shots en route to scoring a career-high tying 29 points in a 72-67 triumph in Savage Arena on Feb. 22.

      Toledo shot 49.0 percent from the field and was 39.5 percent (15-of-38) from three-point range in three contests against the Chippewas.

      Former Chippewa Trey Ziegler paced CMU with 23.0 ppg and 6.7 rpg. He shot 60.4 from the field but was just 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) from the charity stripe.

      CMU posted a 47.4 FG% against the Rockets and were 33.3 percent (20-of-60) from three-point range.

NOTES FROM THE ROCKETS' 70-58 WIN AT KENT STATE

• Toledo snapped a five-game losing streak to Kent State and the Rockets' victory was just their second in their last nine meetings with the Golden Flashes.

• The Rockets had a streak of 28 straight free throws made snapped dating back to the UIC game. UT has a 94.7 FT% (36-of-38) in its last two games.

• Junior G Rian Pearson scored in double figures for a career-high 11th straight game. He took a season-high 19 shots and tied his MAC career best with 10 field goals.

• Senior G Dominique Buckley's 15 points were one shy of his MAC career high and his six field goals made were the most he's made in a league contest.

• Sophomore G Julius Brown's 10 assists were the second time he has registered double-digit helpers. His career best is 11 in last year's CIT First Round game vs. McNeese State. Brown also tied his season and MAC-high with 37 minutes played.

• Junior F Matt Smith has connected for a three-point field goal in eight straight games. He leads the Rockets with a 43.8 3PTFG% and is second with an 87.9 FT%.

• Freshman C Nathan Boothe scored in double figures for a third straight game and is averaging 10.7 ppg with a 54.2 FG% (13-of-24) during this stretch. Boothe also has blocked a shot in six straight games during which he has 16 rejections.

• Freshman G Josh Lemons registered a steal for a seventh straight game.

Pearson ENJOYING ANOTHER STELLAR SEASON IN MIDNIGHT BLUE AND GOLD UNIFORM

      After making his presence felt immediately in his first season in the MAC last season, junior G Rian Pearson has followed that up with even more spectacular play. 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 19.8 ppg to go along with a team-high 6.6 rpg and 2.0 spg and scored a career-high 30 points in UT's win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 28). Pearson also registered his first double-double of the season (11th of his career) with 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals vs. UIC (Dec. 29).

      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 tying 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 and is doing so again this season...Pearson is joined by Kent State's Chris Evans (16.7 ppg/2nd, 7.5 rpg/4th, 1.9 spg/5th)...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 10th in the MAC with 13.0 ppg. He is also leading the Rockets with 4.7 apg (5th in MAC) 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 17 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).

SMITH AN INSIDE-OUTSIDE THREAT FOR ROCKETS

      Junior F Matt Smith, who is averaging 9.1 ppg and 3.6 rpg with a team-best 43.8 3PTFG% (4th in MAC), 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 14 of his last 25 (56.0%) long-distance shots including 10 of his last 17 attempts from behind the arc. He also grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and scored nine points vs. UIC (Dec. 29) to just miss recording his first career double-double.

      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 SPARK OFF BENCH FOR ROCKETS

      Junior F Reese Holliday has given the Rockets consistent play off the bench and ranks third on the team with 4.8 rpg and a 39.0 3PTFG% while scoring 8.6 ppg in 25.1 mpg this season. Holliday has tallied a season-high 16 points on two occasions — at Cleveland State (Dec. 1) and vs. UIC (Dec. 29) — and possesses a career-high 39.0 3PTFTG% (16-of-41) and 84.4 FT% (27-of-32).

      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).

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, who scored 15 points in his 100th collegiate game in Wednesday's win over Kent State, leads the team with an 88.2 FT% and ranks second with a 39.0 3PTFG% (21-of-53) and tied for fifth with 8.3 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.

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 is tied for fith in the MAC with a team-high 1.5 bpg and is also averaging 8.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg.

      The Gurnee, IL native has started all 11 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 four rejections vs. UIC (Dec. 29) to give him 16 rejections in his last six contests.

BACKCOURT TRIO SERVING AS IRONMEN FOR ROCKETS

      Junior G Rian Pearson (34.2 mpg), sophomore G Julius Brown (33.0 mpg) and senior G Dominique Buckley (32.4 mpg) rank third, fourth and fifth, respectively in the MAC in minutes per game. With the Rockets having just seven scholarship players on its active roster, freshman Josh Lemons is the only guard in UT's rotation and is averaging 12.3 mpg.

      UT has two transfers - junior G Justin Drummond-Loyola (MD) and junior F J.D. Weatherspoon (Ohio State) - and freshman F Aubrey Williams - sitting out this season. Junior C DeLino Dear and sophomore G AJ Mathew left the Rocket squad following the fall semester.

TOLEDO REGAINING HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE

      Toledo has won eight of its last 10 home games dating back to last season. The Rockets posted an 11-8 ledger in Savage Arena last year 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.

 

ON THE HORIZON

            Toledo will play its next two conference games on the road with matchups at Western Michigan (Jan. 16) and Ohio (Jan. 19) before hosting Akron (Jan. 23) and arch-rival Bowling Green (Jan. 26).