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Rockets to Take Unbeaten MAC Record on the Road to Western Michigan

Courtesy: Toledo Athletics
Release: 01/15/2013
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Courtesy: Toledo Athletics
Junior F Matt Smith ranks sixth in the MAC with a 42.9 three-point field-goal percentage.
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  • Toledo (6-7, 2-0 MAC) looks to continue its unbeaten start to the Mid-American Conference season when it travels to Kalamazoo, MI to battle Western Michigan (8-7, 0-2 MAC) on Wednesday, Jan. 16. Tip-off time for the contest is set for 7:00 p.m. in University Arena. The Rockets' 2-0 start in league play is their first since the 2006-07 season when UT captured the MAC regular-season title with a 14-2 ledger.
  • UT has played the fewest home contests (four) of any MAC school. After opening the conference season at Kent State and vs. CMU in Savage Arena, the Rockets will play their next two games on the road.
  • 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 eighth place with his 13.5 scoring mark.
  • Pearson has been named the MAC West Division Player of the Week three times this season, while Brown was honored on Monday for the first time with his stellar play vs. Kent State and CMU.
  • Toledo has picked up right where it left off as one of the MAC's top free-throw shooting squads. UT paces the conference at 77.2 percent (and ranks eighth in the nation as of Jan. 13) 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.
  • UT has just one win (in 2007) in Kalamazoo since 2002, and has split the season series with the Broncos each of the last two years.
  • WMU leads the MAC with a plus-7.1 rebounding margin with junior C Shayne Whittington ranking second in the conference at 8.4 rpg.
  • Senior F Nate Hutcheson leads a balanced attack with 11.8 ppg and is joined in double figures by Whittington (11.3) and freshman F Darius Paul (11.1).

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 151-116 (.567) overall and 78-58 (.574) in conference play. 

TALKING A CLOSER LOOK AT UT'S 2-0 START TO CONFERENCE PLAY
      Toledo has won its first two league games for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign when it won at Ball State and Central Michigan...That season resulted in the Rockets' last MAC regular-season title...Toledo is also in first place in the MAC's West Division for the first time since 2007.

HIGH SCHOOL REUNION
      The Rockets' game at Western Michigan on Wednesday will have former high school teammates - UT's Nathan Boothe and WMU's Darius Paul - facing each other for the first time. The Gurnee, IL natives have started every game this season. Boothe is averaging 8.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg and a team-high 1.5 bpg for Toledo, while Paul is averaging 11.1 ppg and 6.3 rpg for Western Michigan. The duo helped Warren Township High School reach the Illinois Class 4A state championship game in their junior seasons.

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 eighth nationally (as of Jan. 13) at 77.2 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark. Davidson tops the nation with an amazing 80.8 FT% with Central Michigan (73.4-2nd), Ohio (71.4-3rd), Bowling Green (71.4-4th), Kent State (70.7-5th) and Western Michigan (70.1-6th) each topping 70 percent.
      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 snapped in the contest.
      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
      Junior F Matt Smith leads the way with an 87.9 FT% and is followed by junior F Reese Holliday (84.4), senior G Dominique Buckley (84.2), sophomore G Julius Brown (78.2) and junior G Rian Pearson (75.3).
      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. WMU IN 2011-12
      Sophomore G Julius Brown and junior G Rian Pearson led the Rockets last year vs. WMU with 15.5 ppg and 15.0 ppg, respectively. Senior G Dominique Buckley also averaged in double figures with 11.0 ppg.
      Junior G Reese Holliday led Toledo on the boards with 5.0 rpg. The Rockets were outrebounded by a 48-24 margin in Kalamazoo but limited the Broncos to a 35-34 advantage in their rematch in Savage Arena.
      Toledo shot 42.4 percent from the field and was 30.8 percent (12-of-39) from three-point range in two contests against the Broncos.
      Former Bronco Flenard Whitfield paced WMU with 17.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg with Matt Stainbrook averaging 13.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg. Whitfield shot 60.9 percent from the field, while Stainbrook posted a 66.7 FG%.
      WMU posted a 49.2 FG% against the Rockets and was 30.6 percent (11-of-36) from three-point range.

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 6.5 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 this year by Kent State's Chris Evans (16.6 ppg/3rd, 7.3 rpg/4th, 1.8 spg/T-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 with 13.5 ppg (8th in MAC). He is also leading the Rockets with 5.0 apg (4th in MAC) and scored a season-high 25 points in UT's 82-69 win over Samford (Nov. 21). Brown was selected MAC West Division Player of Week on Monday after he averaged 14.0 ppg, 9.5 apg and 6.5 rpg in UT's wins at Kent State and vs. Central Michigan.
      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 19 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 3.5 rpg with a team-best 42.9 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 15 of his last 28 (53.6%) long-distance shots including 11 of his last 20 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.

 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 last Wednesday's win over Kent State, ranks second on the team with a 39.7 3PTFG% (25-of-63) and is fourth with 8.7 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. 

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 4.6 rpg and a 39.5 3PTFG% while scoring 8.3 ppg in 25.3 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 39.5 3PTFTG% (17-of-43) 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).

 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 fifth 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 13 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 18 rejections in his last seven contests. 

BACKCOURT TRIO SERVING AS IRONMEN FOR ROCKETS
      Junior G Rian Pearson (34.7 mpg), sophomore G Julius Brown (33.6 mpg) and senior G Dominique Buckley (33.0 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 other guard in UT's rotation and is averaging 12.1 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 nine of its last 11 home games (including six straight vs. MAC opponents) 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.

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.

ON THE HORIZON
Toledo will visit defending MAC Tournament champion and MAC East Division favroite Ohio (Jan. 19) in Athens, OH before hosting Akron (Jan. 23) and arch-rival Bowling Green (Jan. 26).

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