UT tops Miami (OH) in MAC Tournament openerWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the first round in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, Toledo held off a late push to secure a victory over Miami (OH) on March 5 at Savage Arena.
With the win, the Rockets (17-15) advance to the next round of postseason play, which takes place at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. UT will face Central Michigan (11-21) in the second round at 9:30 p.m. March 7; the Chippewas upset Bowling Green.
“That is a great way to start out the conference tournament,” UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk said.
“We feel really good to advance to the second round of the tournament,” sophomore guard Rian Pearson said. “I’m pretty excited.”
On the day he was chosen third in the MAC Player of the Year voting, Pearson (8 of 14) had a game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds for his ninth double-double on the year. The sophomore guard bested the 12 points and six rebounds of Miami’s Julian Mavunga, the second place finisher in the voting.
“I am happy for Rian and I hope it motivates him,” Kowalczyk said. “The two guys that were ahead of him were both seniors so I think that bodes great for the future of Rocket basketball. I think that will motivate him to try and win it next year.”
Junior forward Matt Smith (4 of 11) also scored in double figures for the Rockets with 12 points and eight rebounds. Freshman point guard Juice Brown (4 of 10) scored nine points while sophomore forward Reese Holliday grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.
The RedHawks started the game strong, taking an early 9-3 lead. Toledo took its first lead with just 3:43 remaining in the half at 24-23. They finished the half with an 8-0 run to grab a 32-24 advantage at the break.
The Rockets continued to pour it on, extending their lead to 16 points with 11:16 remaining. That’s when the game turned, however, as Miami responded with a 20-3 run in the next six minutes to take a 53-52 lead with 5:35 left.
Despite losing the lead, Toledo would not be denied. The Rockets held MU scoreless the remainder of the game and scored eight unanswered to win 60-53.
“I wasn’t going to let my team give up the win,” Pearson said. “We grinded it out and got some big-time defensive stops and rebounds.”
With the victory, Toledo will now focus on facing the Chippewas in the rubber match of this season’s series. CMU won 85-69 in Mount Pleasant on Jan. 7 before the Rockets took game two 72-67 on Feb. 22 in Savage Arena.
Sophomore guard Trey Zeigler leads the Chippewas in points (16.2) and rebounds (6.6) on the season, but struggled in the 54-53 opening round win over Bowling Green with just three points on 1-of-12 shooting. He scored 52 points with 12 rebounds and seven assists in two games against UT this season.
“We went up to their place and didn’t play very well,” Kowalczyk said. “Trey Zeigler is a very good player that has really hurt us. We have played against him four times since we have been here and every time he has played well against us so we have to do a much better job defensively on him.”