• Toledo (13-12, 8-5 MAC) looks to bounce back from Wednesday's 65-62 home setback to Western Michigan when it hosts Ball State (12-14, 5-8 MAC) this afternoon. Tip-off time is set for 2:00 p.m. inside Savage Arena.
• The Rockets now trail the Broncos by a game in the West Division standings with three league contests remaining. The Cardinals have won four of their last five outings, including Wednesday's 95-90 home triumph over Central Michigan.
• UT will be looking to sweep the season series against Ball State for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign after posting an 85-78 victory in Muncie on Jan. 30. Junior G Rian Pearson paced the Rockets in that contest with junior F Matt Smith (19 pts.), junior F Reese Holliday (16 pts.) and sophomore G Julius Brown (13 pts.) also scoring in double figures.
• Toledo was outrebounded by Ball State in that contest by a 41-25 margin but was able to overcome that by shooting 51.7 percent and committing a season-low four turnovers.
• UT features two of the MAC's top scorers with junior G Rian Pearson pacing the league at 18.2 ppg and sophomore G Julius Brown in 10th place at 13.2 ppg. Pearson and Brown are the MAC's top scoring tandem at 31.4 ppg with Kent State's Chris Evans (16.9) and Randal Holt (14.3) ranked second at 31.2 ppg.
• Toledo has continued as the MAC's top free-throw shooting squad this season. UT paces the conference and is shooting a school-record 76.8 percent (and is seventh in the nation as of Feb. 28) after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark.
• Ball State senior G Jauwan Scaife ranks third in MAC scoring in league play with 19.4 ppg, including a career-high 34 points in the Cardinals' win over the Chippewas. Junior F Majok Majok is the only player in the MAC averaging a double-double with 11.0 ppg and a league-best 10.0 rpg.
UT'S 8-5 START TO MAC PLAY RANKS AMONG BEST IN LAST 20 YEARS
Toledo's eight wins in its first 13 league games matches the program's third-best start in the last 20 years. The Rockets' best record during this time frame is a 11-2 mark registered by the 2006-07 squad. Below are the top five ledgers for UT in the first 12 games of league play over the last 20 years.
1. 2006-07........................ 11-2 Finished 14-2 (1st in West)/19-13 overall
2. 2003-04........................ 10-3 Finished 12-6 (2nd in West)/20-11 overall
3. 2012-13..................... 8-5 Currently 2nd in West/13-12 overall
1997-98......................... 8-5 Finished 10-8 (4th in West)/15-12 overall
1998-99......................... 8-5 Finished 11-7 (1st in West)/19-9 overall
2004-05......................... 8-5 Finished 11-7 (T-1st in West/16-13 overall)
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 158-121 (.566) overall and 84-63 (.571) in conference play.
AMONG NATION'S BEST AT Taking Advantage of Charity
Toledo is the MAC's top free-throw shooting squad for a second-straight season. UT tops the conference and ranks seventh nationally (as of Feb. 28) at 76.8 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark. Davidson tops the nation with an amazing 81.2 FT% with Kent State holding the conference record at 78.4 percent in the 1988-89 season.
The Rockets have topped the 80 percent mark in 11 of 25 contests, including a school-record 20-of-20 vs. Chicago State (Dec. 31). UT converted 26-of-27 free throws vs. Bowling Green (Jan. 26) and had a streak of 28 straight free throw makes snapped (spanning three games) vs. Kent State (Jan. 9).
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
Freshman G Josh Lemons leads the Rockets with an 85.7 free-throw percentage but has made just 6-of-7 attempts. Junior F Matt Smith ranks second in the MAC with an 85.5 free-throw percentage (49-of-54) and is followed by junior F Reese Holliday (81.4-6th in MAC), senior G Dominique Buckley (81.0), sophomore G Julius Brown (75.3) and junior G Rian Pearson (75.0). Buckley and Lemons don't qualify for the league rankings due to not enough free throws made.
Pearson, who has improved on his 68.0 percentage as a sophomore, 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. He leads the Rockets in free throws made (138) and attempted (184) for a second straight season, ranking second in the MAC in FTs made behind CMU's Kyle Randall (145) and FT attempts behind Ball State's Majok Majok (185).
In UT's win over Bowling Green on Jan. 26, Pearson became the first Rocket to make at least 10 free throws in a game without a miss since Tyrone Kent at Xavier on Nov. 17, 2008.
STREAKING AT THE LINE
Toledo has had several double-digit streaks at the free-throw line this season with freshman C Nathan Boothe and freshman G Josh Lemons possessing the longest current streak of four. Junior F Matt Smith and junior G Rian Pearson each had lengthy streaks end at the charity stripe at NIU (Feb. 2) with 22 and 18 straight makes, respectively. Sophomore G Julius Brown saw his streak of 22 straight free-throw conversions end vs. Bowling Green (Jan. 26). Former Rocket Nick Moore holds the school record with 29 in the 2000-01 season.
MORE FREE-THROW FACTS
• UT has a 76.6 FT% in MAC play with Matt Smith (88.9%, 24-of-27) leading the way. Also topping 75 percent are Reese Holliday (79.4%, 27-of-34) and Julius Brown (75.6%, 31-of-41).
• Toledo has a 79.6 FT% in Savage Arena with Reese Holliday leading the way at 85.7% (24-of-28). Matt Smith is at 84.0 percent (21-of-25), Rian Pearson is at 81.4% (70-of-86) and Julius Brown is at 78.8% (26-of-33).
• The Rockets are shooting 74.7% away from their homecourt with Buckley (18-of-20) and Smith (32-of-37) topping UT at 90.0 and 86.5 percent, respectively.
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 18.2 ppg to go along with a team-high 7.0 rpg (7th in MAC) and 1.7 spg (5th in MAC) and scored a career-high 30 points in UT's win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 28). Pearson has scored in double digits in 23 of 25 games and also has nine of the Rockets' 16 20-point outings this season.
Pearson also has registered four double-doubles this season (14 career) — 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals vs. UIC (Dec. 29), 29 points, season-high 14 rebounds vs. EMU (Feb. 9), 18 points and 12 rebounds at CMU (Feb. 16) and 21 points and 11 rebounds vs. McNeese State (Feb. 23).
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 this year by Kent State's Chris Evans (16.9 ppg/4th, 7.6 rpg/5th, 1.9 spg/4th)...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 season with 13.2 ppg (10th in MAC). He is also leading the Rockets with 5.7 apg (3rd in MAC) and is the first UT player to average over 5.0 apg since Keith Wade tallied 6.0 apg in the 1990-91 season.
The conference leader in league play with a sparkling 3.1 assist/turnover ratio who ranks second with 6.7 assists per game, Brown was selected MAC West Division Player of Week the opening week of league play after he averaged 14.0 ppg, 9.5 apg and 6.5 rpg in UT's wins at Kent State (Jan. 9) and vs. CMU (Jan. 12).
Brown, who scored a season-high 25 points in UT's 82-69 win over Samford (Nov. 21), 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 25 occasions in his career (career-high 11 on two occasions vs. McNeese State) 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). 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 career 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 best occurred when he tallied a career-high 29 points with a career-best seven treys at Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 22).
SMITH AN INSIDE-OUTSIDE THREAT FOR ROCKETS
Junior F Matt Smith, who ranks fourth on the team with 9.2 ppg and 3.6 rpg, ranks second in the MAC with an 85.5 FT% (53-of-62) and is fourth with a 41.2 3PTFG%. He scored a season-high 20 points at Cleveland State (Dec. 1). His second-best offensive output came with 19 points (including 5-of-6 three-point shooting) in a road win over Ball State (Jan. 30). Smith had a streak of 22 consecutive free throws end at NIU (Feb. 2) and but missed four of his last eight attempts from the charity stripe. 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% (1Q9-of-22) in UT's eight contests. Smith scored his MAC season-best 18 points and grabbed six boards against Ohio (Feb. 8).
FROM WAY DOWNTOWN
Senior G Dominique Buckley is one of the MAC's top long-distance shooters and is tied for sixth in league play with 2.2 treys per game and 12th with a 36.8 3PTFG% (28-of-76). Buckley, who scored 15 points in his 100th collegiate game at Kent State (Jan. 9), ranks second on the team with a 36.9 3PTFG% (48-of-130) and is third with 9.3 ppg and an 81.0 FT% (34-of-42). Buckley scored a season-high 20 points vs. Bowling Green (Jan. 26), knocking down 4-of-6 three-point attempts and all eight of his free-throw 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.
HOLLIDAY PROVIDES SPARK OFF BENCH FOR ROCKETS
Junior F Reese Holliday has given the Rockets consistent play off the bench and is second on the team with a 37.7 3PTFG% and an 81.4 FT% and is third with a 4.8 rpg and while scoring 8.1 ppg in 23.5 mpg this season. Holliday has tallied a season-high 16 points on four occasions — at Cleveland State (Dec. 1), vs. UIC (Dec. 29), at Ball State (Jan. 30) and vs. Western Michigan (Feb. 27) — and possesses a career-high 81.4 FT% (57-of-70).
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 year (Greg Stempin-Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2000).
BOOTHE BRINGING IT IN POST
Freshman C Nathan Boothe has made an immediate impact in the pivot for the Rockets in his freshman campaign and sank a game-winning trey at the buzzer in UT's 65-64 win over Miami (Feb. 6). He is fifth in the MAC with a team-high 1.6 bpg and is also averaging 8.3 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Boothe also ranks fifth in school history for blocks in a season (39)and has registered the most rejections ever by a UT freshman.
The Gurnee, IL native has started all 25 games for UT and scored a season-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting in UT's 73-64 win at Central Michigan (Feb. 16). Boothe, who also tallied 13 points and seven boards at Big Ten power Minnesota (Nov. 12), is tied for fourth in conference play with 1.6 blocked shots per game and has blocked a shot in 17 of his last 19 contests.
BACKCOURT TRIO SERVING AS IRONMEN FOR ROCKETS
Sophomore G Julius Brown (33.8 mpg), junior G Rian Pearson (33.5 mpg), and senior G Dominique Buckley (32.1 mpg) rank second, fifth and 10th, 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 other guard in UT's rotation and is averaging 13.8 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.
ON THE HORIZON
Toledo concludes its season-long four-game homestand when it hosts Northern Illinois (March 5). Following the game, the Rockets will honor seniors Dominique Buckley and Brendon Schwiebert. UT will end its season at Eastern Michigan (March 9). Tip-off time for the season finale is Noon.