Pearson leads Rockets to victory in home openerWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Junior forward Rian Pearson put forth a career performance Wednesday night to propel the University of Toledo men’s basketball team to an 80-68 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the Rockets home opener.
The contest was marred by an atrocious 59 combined fouls but Pearson recorded a career-high 30 points in arguably the most complete effort of his collegiate career. The reigning Mid-American Conference Player of the Week hit 6 of 9 shots from the field, including 2 for 2 beyond the arc and 16 of 20 from the charity stripe.
“It’s all about repetition,” Pearson said. “I’ve been in the gym shooting a lot of free throws and three pointers.”
Guarding the Islanders (1-4) leading scorer for much of the game, Pearson added to his stellar night on the defensive end by holding Will Nelson (17.5 ppg coming into the contest), to eight points. Nelson fouled out midway through the second half, minutes after Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s starting center Nate Maxey was dismissed.
Following the game, UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk made certain to note the considerable improvement in Pearson’s game this season.
“He’s a better basketball player than a year ago,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s shooting the ball a lot better and the fundamentals on his shot have improved.
“Rian is a talented player and he plays both ends. He defends, he rebounds, he can score in the post, he can score on the perimeter, he can score on the dribble and I think he can still get a lot better.”
Kowalczyk, however, also noted an area where the emotionally charged Pearson needs continued growth.
“We still need him to be more mature,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s working on it, I just don’t want the technical fouls. He needs to be more positive.”
Pearson’s scoring effort was aided by sophomore point guard Juice Brown’s 16 points and game-high six assists and junior guard Reese Holliday’s 12 points and team-best eight rebounds.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi grabbed an early 3-0 lead before Pearson scored UT’s first eight points, giving the Rockets (2-4) an 8-7 lead with under 16 minutes left in the half.
Holliday and senior guard Dominique Buckley then combined for seven points as part of a 10-0 spurt that brought the score to 18-9 near the midway point of the half.
Toledo’s lead swelled to 15 in the closing minutes of the half and the Rockets headed for the locker room with a 44-30 advantage. Pearson scored 18 of his points in the first half on 6 of 8 shooting with two three-pointers.
“We took strong shots in the first half and we did a good job defensively against a talented team,” said UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk. “I’m proud of how we came out, though the second half got uglier with the fouls at both ends.”
The Rockets lead ballooned to 57-35 with under 15 minutes left. The Islanders made a late push to cut UT’s advantage to eight in the closing minutes but it was too little to late and Toledo held on for their second win of the season.
“The second half is hard to evaluate offensively,” Kowalczyk said. “It got ugly because of the foul situation and we missed some really good looks. We got a little bit complacent or got out of our rhythm because of how the game was played.”
Sophomore guard Johnathan Jordan fronted the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi effort with a team-high 22 points while junior guard Joy Williamson added 10 points as the only other Islander to reach double figures in the scoring column.
The Rockets first game at Savage Arena during the 2012-13 campaign marks the only home game of its first nine contests as a result of NCAA penalties for the program’s low Academic Progress Rate under former UT coaches Gene Cross and Stan Joplin.
Toledo hits the court again Saturday, Dec. 1 at Cleveland State. Tip-off against the Vikings is slated for 2 p.m.