Rian Pearson had a career night for the Rockets with a game-high 30 points.
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For myriad reasons, this was a night like none other for Rian Pearson.
The University of Toledo guard posted a career-high 30 points Wednesday in a win in the home opener over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a significant feat amplified by the manner in which he achieved it.
Pearson unveiled the fruits of his offseason work in a 80-68 win, inflicting the majority of his scoring damage from two areas on the court that were a bugaboo of his a year ago. The second-team All-Mid-American Conference selection was perfect from long range and better than anyone could ask for from the free-throw line on an evening when he was just so-so in his usual role as slasher.
"If he can knock down his free throws like he did tonight, his points per game will go up a ton, his free throw percentage will go up, and he will be a big addition to our scoring," said Reese Holliday, who scored 12 points, his season-high.
Pearson might never be a prolific 3-pointer shooter, just as point guard Juice Brown is not expected to develop into a dunking machine. But he is improved after making just eight 3s a year ago, the result of an emphasis to decrease his elevation. Pearson, who scored Toledo’s first eight points drained two 3s early, boosting his season totals to 4 of 12.
"I’m just trying to concentrate on my 3s and not shooting as many but trying to make them go in," said Pearson, who never attempted a 3 after the first five minutes.
Pearson made an impact on defense as well, helping to limit Corpus Christi’s best player, Will Nelson, to just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting. Nelson scored 28 points in the previous game and took the same number of shots.
Wednesday’s contest, played between two teams that are ineligible for postseason play because of poor Academic Progress Rate scores, slowed to a creeping pace in the second half, as referees called 37 fouls. Fifty-nine were called altogether.
Pearson, a career 66 percent free-throw shooter, made 16 of 20 from the line, shattering his previous high of 11 free throws. Taking a deep breath before he releases the ball, he suggests, might be the difference in his making 72 percent of his attempts this season.
"I think he’s a better basketball player than a year ago," coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "He’s shooting the ball much better. You see his fundamentals on his shot have improved."
Kowalczyk added: "Still need him to be more mature. He’s working on it and he’s trying. I just don’t want the technical fouls anymore."
Toledo forward Matt Smith (43) and center Nathan Boothe (53) defend the rim against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi guard Joy Williamson.
Pearson, who developed a bad habit last year of reacting angrily to referees and opposing players, played composed all night until midway through the second half, when he and Corpus Christi’s Nate Maxey were assessed double technicals.
"I have to keep my reactions to a minimum," Pearson said.
Pearson might have been the story, but several of his teammates played well in front of a crowd of 3,689 that will not see another home game — not counting an exhibition against Wayne State — for 31 more days. Brown contributed 16 points and six assists, and Holliday was 8 of 8 from the line.
Toledo, which went almost 11 minutes in the second half without a field goal, never saw its lead dwindle to less than eight because of its deftness from the line (35 of 46).
The biggest, and perhaps only disappointment for the Rockets (2-4), was the continuation of foul troubles for freshman center Nathan Boothe. Boothe, who has had at least four fouls in every game, played a season-low 16 minutes after picking up his third and fourth fouls in the first two minutes of the second half.
"He just gets frustrated and gets down on himself and that’s not helping anybody," Kowalczyk said. "It’s certainly not helping our team."
Pearson, whose previous scoring high was 29 last year at Akron, demanded the ball for the final minute or two, and later admitted he had his sights set on his record. He finally got his wish with 7.8 seconds to go, when he was fouled and sank two from the line. Holliday, who was aware of the scenario, flashed his teammate a wide smile as he jogged back on defense.
"I was trying to concentrate and not miss it," Pearson said. "If I would have missed I don’t think it would be meant to be."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.