The Northern Illinois Huskies hosted the Toledo Rockets on Saturday afternoon at 4:30 PM EST. The game featured a pair of clubs congested in a four-way tie for second place in the MAC West. Toledo came into play after almost upsetting the conference leading Akron Zips on their home floor, but saw an 11 point second half lead dissipate down the stretch in a 71-65 loss. The Huskies dropped a home game to Ball State on Tuesday in overtime, 82-71. The Rockets came in looking to avenge a 74-72 loss to the Huskies in their first meeting back on January 28th in Toledo’s Savage Arena.
The Rockets started the contest strong, pounding the ball in the post to Steve Taylor Jr. for 6 and Luke Knapke for 2, as they grabbed a 10-3 lead. Northern Illinois would battle back, cutting the lead to 14-12 with 10:43 in the half. The Huskies outscored Toledo 12-6 over a four minute span, taking the lead 24-21 with 7:11 in the half. After hitting on 11-of-14 from the field and pushing the Huskies lead to 28-23, they would go ice cold, missing 12 of their next 14 shots. The Rockets would capitalize and ride a 15-4 run into the break, taking a 38-32 lead at halftime. Toledo shot a blistering 58.3% in the half and out-rebounded the home squad 17-14. The Huskies shot just 41.2% but limited their turnovers and only trailed by 6.
Toledo came out of the locker room with thoughts of running away with this one, as a Jonathan Williams triple with 14:58 gave the Rockets a 51-40 lead. Things were looking like it might get out-of-hand when Justin Roberts got fouled and banked in a three to extend Toledo’s lead to 59-44 with 11:30 left. The Huskies had different plans, though, as they started feeding Marin Maric and he responded by leading them on an 11-3 run that cut the lead to 62-55. With 7:31 to go, Taylor would be forced to the bench with his fourth foul and NIU was right back in the game. Toledo went 0-for-5 in 6 plus minutes of play and the Huskies would score on a long rebound run-out to cut the deficit to 63-60, forcing a Rockets timeout with 5:18 to play. Toledo would come back with Taylor but he wouldn’t stay long, fouling out with 2:35, while going for an offensive rebound, with his team trailing 68-67. A fourth Austin Pauga triple of the game put the Huskies up 71-67 with 1:42 on the clock. Nate Navigato would bring Toledo back from the brink though, hitting two free throws and a baseline jumper to pull even with the Huskies at 71-71. The Huskies would hold for the last shot but another Pauga trey wasn’t to be and they would head to overtime, 71-71.
Saturday was Toledo’s 7th overtime game of the season and NIU’s 5th, as well as their second in a row. Maric would try to keep the Huskies in it during overtime, scoring from the low post and drawing Knapke’s fifth foul with 1:53, cutting Toledo’s lead to 79-78. Navigato would come up huge for the Rockets though, knocking down a three to put Toledo up four, 82-78 and ahead for good. Toledo’s 88-80 win ties the season series between the two at 1-1, but in the bigger picture, puts them a game ahead of NIU in the MAC West standings.
The Rockets were led by Williams and Navigato, who each poured in 21 points, while Taylor kicked in 14 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. Toledo improves to 14-13 overall and 7-7 in MAC play. They will host Western Michigan on Tuesday at 7 PM EST.
Northern Illinois was led by Eugene German and his career high 27 points, while Maric put in 24 and grabbed 10 rebounds. The Huskies have now lost seven of their last 9 and fall to 14-13 overall and 6-8 in the MAC. They will head to Mount Pleasant, Michigan on Tuesday night to face Central Michigan.