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Courtesy: Toledo Athletics
Rian Pearson scored 29 points and grabbed 14 boards vs. EMU on Feb. 9. UT will end its season on Saturday vs. the Eagles in Ypsilanti, MI.

Toledo Heads to EMU on Saturday Looking to Capture At Least A Share of West Division Title

Courtesy: Toledo Athletics
Release: 03/07/2013
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QUICK HITTERS

  • Toledo (14-13, 9-6 MAC) enters its season finale at Eastern Michigan (14-16, 7-8 MAC) on Saturday, March 9 with an opportunity to capture a share of its first Mid-American Conference West Division title since the 2006-07 campaign. Tip-off time for the contest vs. the Eagles is set for Noon at EMU's Convocation Center.
  • The Rockets, who snapped a two-game losing streak with Tuesday's 70-44 victory over Northern Illinois, are tied with Western Michigan atop the West Division standings. The Broncos will host Central Michigan on Saturday at Noon.
  • UT has registered its most MAC victories and its first winning MAC mark since posting a 14-2 league ledger en route to its 2006-07 regular-season title.
  • UT will be looking to sweep the season series against Eastern Michigan for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign after defeating the Eagles by a 60-52 margin in Savage Arena on Feb. 9. Junior G Rian Pearson led the Rockets with 29 points (one shy of his career high) and 14 rebounds.
  • Toledo struggled to find its shooting touch against the Eagles' stifling 2-3 zone defense, finishing with a 34.6 FG%. The Rockets made up for it though by limiting EMU to a 33.9 FG% and forcing 19 turnovers.
  • The Rockets have come away empty in their last five visits to the Convocation Center, including a 42-39 setback last season.
  • Eastern Michigan leads the MAC in scoring defense (59.1 ppg) and 3PTFG% defense (29.6) but ranks 11th in scoring offense (56.7 ppg) and field-goal percentage (39.9). The Eagles have posted a 12-4 home mark with their only conference setbacks on their home floor coming to Akron and Ball State.
  • Senior G Derek Thompson and junior F Glenn Bryant are leading EMU with 10.8 and 10.6 ppg, respectively.

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 159-122 (.566) overall and 85-64 (.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 is tied for fifth nationally (as of March 3) at 76.7 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark. Davidson tops the nation with an amazing 80.9 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 26 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
      Junior F Matt Smith ranks second in the MAC with an 85.3 free-throw percentage (58-of-68), trailing only Kent State's Randal Holt (86.0). He is followed by senior G Dominique Buckley (82.6), junior F Reese Holliday (82.4-4th in MAC), sophomore G Julius Brown (74.7), junior G Rian Pearson (73.9) and freshman C Nathan Boothe (71.1). Buckley doesn'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 (150) and attempted (203) for a second straight season, ranking second in the MAC in FTs made behind CMU's Kyle Randall (154) and first in FT attempts.
      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 junior F Reese Holliday possessing the longest current streak of seven. 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 75.9 FT% in MAC play with Matt Smith (87.9%, 29-of-33) leading the way. Also topping 75 percent are Reese Holliday (81.6%, 31-of-38) and Dominique Buckley (77.8%, 21-of-27).
  • Toledo posted a 78.3 FT% in Savage Arena with Reese Holliday setting the pace at 87.5% (28-of-32). Matt Smith is at 83.9 percent (26-of-31), Rian Pearson is at 78.1% (82-of-105) and Julius Brown is at 76.9% (30-of-39).
  • 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 17.9 ppg to go along with a team-high 6.9 rpg (7th in MAC) and 1.8 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 a career-high 13 straight games (and 25 of 27 overall) 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 (16.8 ppg/4th, 7.7 rpg/4th, 2.0 spg/3rd)...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 12.9 ppg (12th in MAC). He is also leading the Rockets with 5.8 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 6.6 assists per game and a sparkling 2.8 assist/turnover ratio, 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 26 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 third on the team with 9.7 ppg and 3.6 rpg, ranks second in the MAC with an 85.3 FT% (58-of-68) and is third with a 44.9 3PTFG% (35-of-78) (behind Kent State's duo of Kris Brewer (45.2%, 33-of-73) and Devaraux Manley (45.1%, 37-of-82). 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 seventh in league play with 2.1 treys per game and 15th with a 35.6 3PTFG% (32-of-90). Buckley, who scored 15 points in his 100th collegiate game at Kent State (Jan. 9), ranks second on the team with an 82.6 FT% (38-of-46), third with a 36.1 3PTFG% (52-of-144) and fourth with 9.3 ppg. 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 36.3 3PTFG% and third with an 82.4 FT% and 4.7 rpg and while scoring 8.0 ppg in 23.4 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 82.4 FT% (61-of-74).
      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 sixth in the MAC with a team-high 1.5 bpg and is also averaging 8.4 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Boothe also is tied for fourth with former Rocket Casey Shaw (1997-98) in school history for blocks in a season (41) and has registered the most rejections ever by a UT freshman.
      The Gurnee, IL native has started all 26 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 (33.5 mpg), junior G Rian Pearson (33.2 mpg), and senior G Dominique Buckley (32.0 mpg) rank fifth, sixth and ninth, 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 14.2 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 14 of its last 19 home games (including 10 of its last 13 vs. MAC opponents) dating back to last season and is 8-4 this year. UT posted 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 LOOKING TO CAPTURE FIFTH MAC WEST DIVISION TITLE
     With a win over Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Toledo will clinch at least a share of its fifth MAC West Division title. The Rockets are currently tied with Western Michigan for first place in the West with the Broncos hosting Central Michigan on Saturday. The Rockets have won or shared four MAC West Division titles since the conference split into divisions prior the 1997-98 campaign. Western Michigan leads the way with six West titles with Ball State and Central Michigan tied with the Rockets with four apiece. Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois have also each captured one title.

1997-98      Western Michigan/Ball State
1998-99      Toledo
1999-00      Toledo/Ball State
2000-01      Central Michigan
2001-02      Ball State
2002-03      Central Michigan
2003-04      Western Michigan
2004-05      Toledo/Western Michigan
2005-06      Northern Illinois
2006-07      Toledo
2007-08      Western Michigan
2008-09      BSU/CMU/WMU
2009-10      Central Michigan
2010-11      Western Michigan
2011-12      Eastern Michigan

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.

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. 

ON THE HORIZON
      Toledo will lose just one letterwinner - senior G Dominique Buckley - from this year's squad. UT will add incoming freshmen C Zach Garber (Carey, OH), freshman G Jordan Lauf (Napoleon, OH) and freshman G Jonathan Williams (Southfield, MI) as well as gain the services of junior G Justin Drummond (Bowie, MD), junior F J.D. Weatherspoon (Columbus, OH), sophomore G Angel Aparicio (Benicarlo, Spain) and redshirt freshman F Aubrey Williams (Baltimore, MD).

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