Pearson making a run for MAC Player of the YearWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After earning back-to-back Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week awards in the past two weeks, Rian Pearson is putting the league on notice.
Over the past five games, Pearson is averaging 23.6 points and 10.6 rebounds. That performance has come against the best competition as Toledo began a six-game swing against MAC East teams. So far, the MAC East has dominated the battle over the West, winning 25 of 30 games. Toledo, however, owns two of the division’s five wins, thanks in large part to the play of Pearson.
“I think I have tried to take more on my [shoulders] since I am one of the leaders on our team,” Pearson said. “I have tried to focus in and play my game the way I know I can and with my teammates try to get as close as we can to win games.”
Pearson’s hot streak, which has coincided with playing the four top teams in the league in five games, has vaulted his name into the conversation for the MAC Player of the Year award. The sophomore is averaging 17.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.75 steals per game on the season, making him the leading scorer in the MAC and fifth in steals, while ranking fourth in the nation in rebounds from the guard position.
Among the other candidates for the award are Miami’s Julian Mavunga (17.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3 assists), Ball State’s Jarrod Jones (16.7 points, 8.6 rebounds), Buffalo’s Javon McCrea (15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds) and Mitchell Watt (14.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks), Central Michigan’s Trey Zeigler (15.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists) and Ohio’s D.J. Cooper (13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.3 steals).
Pearson is the lone player in the conference who ranks in the top 10 in the MAC in points, rebounds and steals on the season. Pearson, McCrea and Zeigler are the only players listed who are still underclassmen, with all three in their sophomore year.
“[The MAC Player of the Year] is very important to me,” Pearson said. “I try to not think about it until the end of the season and then I will give a big smile at the end when it’s all over. It still sinks in that I’m doing what I’m doing, but I just try to keep it going. My main goal is to let everybody know that Toledo is back and we are going to try and win some games.”
“He’s playing at a high level and playing at both ends of the floor,” UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I really like defensively how he is playing and how he is rebounding the ball because that is leading to good offense. I knew he was a talented player; I am not surprised. The best part about him is he has room to improve.”
Among the areas where Pearson still believes he must improve are his ball handling and his jump shot. Pearson is shooting a respectable 48 percent from the field but just 28 percent from behind the arc and 67 percent from the free-throw line.
“I think he still needs to play with a little more discipline at times and still needs to shoot the ball better including shooting foul shots better,” Kowalczyk said.
Despite his recent play, Pearson still is trying his best to focus on finishing the season strong. The Rockets (11-13, 3-7 MAC) are just two games behind MAC West leader Eastern Michigan (10-14, 5-5) and have six conference games remaining, four against teams with a conference record below .500.
“I thought we would have more wins now but it didn’t pan out like we planned,” Pearson said. “We are just keeping it rolling and moving on to the next one and trying to get better every day.”
The Rockets have won 11 games this season, which is already more than their last two seasons’ totals combined. UT finished with a school-worst 4-28 season in 2009 and 2010. Pearson’s goal for the end of the season, however, is to win at least one game in the MAC Tournament and then try to make a run.
“[My goal is] to get out of the first round of the tournament,” Pearson said. “Win our first game and then go as far as we can.”