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Published: Thursday, 3/8/2012

Holliday gives UT the edge

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

CLEVELAND -- There are three ways to beat Toledo's Rockets. Press them, get them in foul trouble and deep into the bench, and get in point guard Juice Brown's grille and keep him out of the paint.

Central Michigan did all those things Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, and it still wasn't enough to beat UT in the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament as the Rockets survived 75-72.

It didn't work thanks to another "wow" effort -- albeit not on a great shooting night -- by Rian Pearson.

And it didn't work thanks to Reese Holliday.

Admit it. There are times you wonder why UT coach Tod Kowalczyk has Holliday in at key times of a game.

He is anything but smooth. At 6-foot-4 and with ball-handling skills somewhere between herky and jerky, he is too big to play guard. He is too small to play forward. A post player? Get serious.

Coaches like to talk about matchup problems. Holliday is a matchup problem … for HIS coach.

Yes, Reese Holliday can leave you scratching your head.

So why does Kowalczyk play him so much? And why, for goodness sake, was he in the starting lineup -- for the first time since Jan. 28 -- in a win-or-go-home game against Central Michigan?

Holliday has heart. He's tough. Nothing and no one intimidates him. He can rebound. He can find a lane to the basket when you least expect it and bails the Rockets out often in stressful shot-clock situations. And, man, can he defend. He knows how to use his body to move an opponent, to clog up a lane, to turn a guy toward a double team.

The young man with the dreadlocks was at his best as the Rockets advanced to Thursday's quarterfinal round against Ohio University.

He was a key for the second straight game. On Monday, he did a number on Miami's best player, 6-8 Julian Mavunga, as the Rockets won their tournament opener at Savage Arena.

Against CMU, Holliday had 12 points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes of playing time.

Pearson also had a big night with his 10th double-double of the season. He scored 20 and pulled down an astounding 15 rebounds - he is 6-4, remember - despite moving gingerly at times on what looked to be a sore ankle.

On Monday, Charlie Coles, the Miami coach, joked that Pearson has some Moses Malone in him the way he sometimes seems to purposely miss a shot just so he can rebound it and put it up again.

There was nothing purposeful about Pearson's 7-of-17 shooting night Wednesday, but he did get his share of second-chance points.

So the Rockets survived on a night two starters -- Matt Smith and Dominique Buckley -- were saddled with early foul trouble. By the end, one UT player had fouled out and three others had four fouls. They survived on a night CMU scored 10 of its 31 first-half points after the Chippewas' press forced Toledo turnovers.

And they survived on a night Trey Zeigler, the son of CMU's coach who has averaged 26 points in four previous career games against Toledo, scored 10 points in 12 minutes during the first half -- he too was in and out with foul issues. He then scored one point in the first 14 minutes of the second half. Credit Holliday.

Of course, there's another way to beat the Rockets. Let them try to play with a big lead.

UT was up 15 points after a Curtis Dennis trey.

As usual, it was sliced to almost nothing.

But UT held on thanks to some buffer provided by a big 3-pointer with just over 4:00 to play.

It was all net from, of all people, Reese Holliday.

Yes, there are reasons he's out there.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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