Rian Pearson brought less than his commanding presence for nine straight games, never scoring more than 14 points and bottoming out with a 2-of-9 shooting performance and only four points in Toledo’s overtime loss at Ohio on Feb. 1.
He has rebounded with 16 in a home win against Bowling Green, then was credited with “single-handedly winning the game at Ball State” by UT coach Tod Kowalczyk with a 20-point effort. Then came Wednesday night’s rematch with Ohio.
“I knew Rian Pearson would be stepping up tonight; there wasn’t a doubt in my mind,” said Ohio coach Jim Christian. “With [Justin] Drummond’s suspension, I fully expected that from an all-league player.”
Pearson rippled the nets for 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting and the Rockets beat the Bobcats 82-76 to improve to 21-3. Thanks to the senior guard UT survived the absence of leading scorer Drummond, who was benched for the night after a DUI arrest.
UT fans can stop worrying about Rian Pearson because he’s back. But it is interesting to wonder where he went.
Kowalczyk said Pearson’s weak scoring punch during that stretch was “irrelevant because we have so many guys who can score.”
That may be true to a degree, but with UT chasing the top seed in the upcoming MAC tournament and thinking about tournaments beyond that nothing so important is really irrelevant.
So, what was the problem?
“He lost sight of who and what he is,” Kowalczyk said. “There was not the same amount of energy. Rian has to score baskets in transition and by going to the basket and getting fouled. That all starts by being a defense-first guy. And all of that takes energy.”
So, where did it go?
“Good question,” Pearson said. “I really don’t know. And it was frustrating that I didn’t know. But coach was right. I understood what he was telling me. I have to play off my energy and if I don’t have it from start to finish I’m not the same player.
“I spent a lot of time in the gym, took a lot of shots. Fortunately, the Ball State game happened and that stopped the bleeding.”
He was the start-to-finish guy Wednesday and it was Ohio that left Savage Arena bloodied.
Toledo fell in arrears by as much as 57-51 with 11½ minutes to play before point guard Juice Brown got the Rockets started with a 3-pointer off a feed from Pearson.
Jordan Lauf drove the baseline for a big layup and then Pearson just took over.
He followed a weird-looking OU mistake — a pass off Jon Smith’s face as he ran up-court without looking for the ball — by taking a long pass from J.D. Weatherspoon and driving for a three-point play.
Suddenly, the Rockets were ahead 59-57 and 5,849 fans who had been so quiet just a couple minutes earlier were whoopin’ it up.
UT never lost that lead the rest of the way as Pearson extended his personal scoring streak with three more consecutive baskets, the first on a great offensive rebound and falling-down pass from Weatherspoon.
A bit later, Pearson hit a 3-pointer and tipped in a miss from Brown on back-to-back possessions to put the Rockets up by 74-66 with 2:22 to play and all but ice the outcome.
Pearson scored 16 points in the final 10 minutes after UT had fallen behind.
“He just put us on his back tonight,” Brown said. “Big-time players do that.”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.