Toledo looks to keep title hopes alive at NIUWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
With its hopes of sharing a Mid-American Conference West Division Championship still intact, Toledo travels to DeKalb to face Northern Illinois at 8 p.m. Feb. 29.
The Rockets (15-14, 6-8 MAC) have surged into second place in the MAC West riding a five-game winning streak and winning six of seven. Their hopes, however, still ride on first-place Eastern Michigan (13-16, 8-6) losing on Feb. 29 to Western Michigan, setting up a matchup between Toledo and EMU on March 3 in Savage Arena.
The Rockets’ winning streak has also put them in position to host a game in the upcoming MAC Tournament. UT needs just one win to clinch hosting a first-round matchup on March 5.
Before Toledo can take on the Eagles, however, they must face Northern Illinois on the road. The Huskies have struggled mightily in 2012, posting a 3-24 record, including a 2-12 mark in league play.
The Rockets’ recent surge has been propelled by sophomore Rian Pearson and freshman Juice Brown, who have dominated the MAC West Division Player of the Week awards the last five weeks. Pearson won the award three consecutive weeks before giving way to Brown the last two.
Pearson is a MAC Player of the Year candidate, ranking second in the MAC in scoring (16.3), third in rebounds (8.3) and eighth in steals (1.6). Brown ranks fifth in the nation in assists by a freshman and is fourth in the league in assists per game (5), eighth in assist/turnover ratio (1.4) and 15th in points (12.2).
At 15 wins this season, Toledo has matched its win total from the last three years combined. Along with Pearson and Brown, three other Rockets are scoring 9 or more points per game including Curtis Dennis (12.7), Dominique Buckley (9.9) and Matt Smith (9). Meanwhile, the Huskies have just one player scoring over six points per contest in freshman guard Abdel Nader (10.5 ppg) after dismissing their leading scorer Tim Toler on Jan. 26 for violating team rules.