Rockets win opening round of CIT over McNeese StateWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, Toledo dispatched of Southland Conference opponent McNeese State on March 13 at Savage Arena.
“A postseason win is a nice thing for our program and is a building block,” UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “McNeese State, watching them on tape they were a really scary team. I really thought they were a mirror image of Toledo. It was a good win against a talented offensive team.”
“We are happy, this is great for the program and it’s great for the fans,” junior guard Curtis Dennis said. “The fans and the program deserve it. It has been exciting. It’s not the NCAA or NIT, but it’s the postseason.”
The Rockets (19-16) have now won eight of their last 10 games. Their second round opponent is expected to be announced on March 14, as the CIT does not feature a typical bracket format.
Toledo’s MAC Freshman of the Year Juice Brown led the way offensively for a team that shot a season-high 61 percent from the field. The freshman point guard registered his first double-double of his career, recording 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting with 11 assists.
Sophomore Rian Pearson (7 of 11) scored 17 points with seven rebounds, while juniors Curtis Dennis (6 of 10) and Dominique Buckley (4 of 7) scored 18 and 11 points, respectively.
The Rockets limited McNeese State (17-16) by taking away its star player offensively. Patrick Richard, the Southland Conference Player of the Year, had just five points with three minutes remaining in the game, the seventh fewest on his team. The Cowboys star finished with 10 points on just 4-of-17 shooting with eight rebounds.
“Reese Holliday stepped up defensively and I thought Curtis Dennis did a good job on him too,” Kowalczyk said. “He was 4 of 17. If you hold the best player from the opposition to 4 of 17 you are going to win more times than not.”
The Rockets took a 34-20 lead in the first half but let it slip away with a 14-2 MSU run to enter halftime at a 36-34 Toledo lead. The Rockets, however, scored 10 unanswered late in the second half to take an insurmountable 64-48 lead with under seven minutes to play as UT coasted to a 76-63 win.
“I thought we showed some maturity that we didn’t have in the first half,” Kowalczyk said. “At the end of the first half I thought we got a little bit lackadaisical defensively. We addressed it at halftime and I thought our guys learned from it.”
As for Toledo’s next opponent, Kowalczyk was receptive to the idea of a rematch with arch-rival Bowling Green, also competing in the CIT, saying “Oh, I‚d enjoy it.”
“I think everybody in this community would enjoy it,” Kowalczyk said. “What’s better to play in the postseason than against your rival? That would be a heck of a deal.”