Toledo torches MAC West Champs in season finaleWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the regular season finale, Toledo saved its best for last.
Facing this year’s Mid-American Conference West Division Champions, the Rockets entered postseason play with momentum as UT battered Eastern Michigan 76-51 in Savage Arena.
“This was certainly a very good win for us,” UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I thought we guarded well and our zone offense tonight was very efficient. I thought it was a complete team effort and a great way to end the regular season. I am looking forward to the postseason on Monday night.”
The Rockets came near obtaining a share of the MAC West, but a loss against last place Northern Illinois on Feb. 29 eliminated them from contention. Even with a win, however, UT would have fell short as Eastern Michigan locked up the division with a buzzer beater over Western Michigan.
Still, the loss to the Huskies frustrated a Toledo team that looked like it had turned the corner, entering the game on a four-game winning streak.
“It was a setback, especially when you are on a good streak and you lose to a team you are supposed to beat,” junior guard Curtis Dennis said. “It’s a setback but that’s where maturing and mental toughness come in. You can’t let that game distract you from the big picture.”
The Rocket team that showed up against Eastern Michigan, however, looked nothing like the one that fell to four-win NIU. Toledo led by as many as 28 over the MAC West Champs and cruised to the No. 7 seed in the MAC Tournament.
“I thought we have been playing as good as anybody in our league in the whole month of February since we started playing the MAC East,” Kowalczyk said. “I think we have been playing as good as anybody in the league excluding one game where we just didn’t perform at Northern Illinois. I’m disappointed in that game but we bounced back and I thought we played very well tonight.”
Leading the Rockets offensively was the two-headed attack of sophomore Rian Pearson and Dennis. The pair combined for 48 points, nearly outscoring the Eagles’ total of 51.
Dennis received his first start of the season and scored 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds. Kowalczyk chose to start him in place of sophomore center Richard Wonnell, stating that “he wanted to send Rich a message that he has got to play better.”
“[Dennis] is a good shooter,” Kowalczyk said. “We found him ways to get him shots against the zone and he made them.”
Pearson scored 27 points and also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. It was his last chance to make his case for MAC Player of the Year, as the sophomore finished the year averaging 16.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Junior guard Dominique Buckley (3 of 8) scored in double figures with 11 and recorded five assists while reigning back-to-back MAC West Player of the Week Juice Brown scored three points, missing all six of his shots and dishing out six assists.
With the victory, the Rockets will host Miami (OH) in the first round of the MAC Tournament at 7 p.m. March 5. Tickets are on sale at the Savage Arena ticket office or by calling (419) 530-4653 (GOLD) from 12 to 3 p.m. March 4 and all hours on game day.
“They have the best player in the league in my opinion in Julian Mavunga,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s really good. It’s a talented team with a lot of pieces.”