FACTS & STATS: Site: Savage Hall (7,300) -- Toledo, Ohio. Television: None. CIT Record: McNeese 0-0, Toledo 0-0. Series Record: First- ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The first round of the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Tournament begins this evening, as the Toledo Rockets welcome the McNeese State Cowboys to Savage Hall.
McNeese State is 17-15 overall and after defeating UTSA and Texas-Arlington in its first two games of the Southland Conference Tournament, it fell to Lamar by a lopsided 70-49 final in the championship game. The Cowboys' season was highlighted by an eight-game win streak from late-January to early-February, but they also endured a four-game losing streak on two different occasion. They have just a 1-7 record in non-conference road games this season.
After finishing an abysmal 4-28 a year ago, Toledo made significant strides during the 2011-12 campaign in posting an 18-16 overall mark. The 14-game improvement was the second-best in the nation behind USC-Upstate, which saw a plus-15 win differential. The Rockets caught fire at the end of the season, winning seven of eight before misfiring in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals against eventual champion Ohio University, 65-57.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the hardwood.
After not playing in the Southland Conference Tournament title tilt on Saturday because of medical reasons, senior forward Patrick Richard is expected to be in the lineup tonight for McNeese State. Richard was named the Southland's Player of the Year after leading the league in scoring with 18.1 ppg, while also contributing 6.3 rpg, 3.2 apg and 1.3 spg. Dontae Cannon has also been a solid all-around performer for the Cowboys, tallying 11.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.8 apg and 1.3 spg, and Jeremie Mitchell nets 10.8 ppg and is tied for the conference-lead in three-pointers per game (2.3). McNeese State puts up 67.0 ppg with a scoring margin of +1.1, and its defense allows just 42.4 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a lowly 31.9 percent effort from beyond the arc.
Toledo has a star player on its side as well in sophomore guard Rian Pearson, who was named to the All-MAC Second Team after averaging 16.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 1.6 spg. He was the only player in the conference to rank in the top-10 in all three categories. Pearson is the catalyst for an offense that scores 69.9 ppg and ranked third in the MAC in three-point field goal percentage (.367) and first in free-throw percentage (.725), although it was one of the worst teams on the glass, sporting a rebounding margin of -0.9. The Rockets' offensive talent doesn't end with Pearson, as Julius Brown won the league's Freshman of the Year award after putting up 11.9 ppg and 4.8 apg. Curtis Dennis adds 11.7 ppg at 44.9 percent field goal shooting to the mix.
If Richard is indeed ready to go for the Cowboys, he will pose some matchup problems for a Toledo squad that lacks size. That said, the Rockets have been playing their best basketball of late and will find a way to win its eighth game in the last 10, giving the hometown faithful at least one more reason to cheer.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toledo 72, McNeese State 67
03/13 10:44:51 ET
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