Rian Pearson's 27 points were not enough for the Rockets as the Northern Illinois Huskies (13-14, 7-8 MAC) handed Toledo (23-5, 11-4 MAC) just their fifth loss all season. Anytime the Huskies and Rockets get together it is a hard fought, intense battle. And tonight's game in DeKalb was no different, as the teams combined for 48 fouls and 57 free throws. In a game that was always with in 10 points, Toledo found themselves in a tougher battle than they might have expected.
The Huskies have continually shown that they have a great defense but their offense has been, for lack of a better term, bipolar all season long. One day they can put up 80 only to be held to 59 in double overtime the next game. Tonight, we saw the good NIU. The Huskies shot just under 46% while going 25-30 (83.3%) from the charity stripe, and shooting nearly 50% from behind the arc (5-11). Travon Baker lead the team with 17 points but Jordan Threloff (13), Aksel Bolin (11), and Aaron Armstead (11) each reached double figures as well. Darrell Bowie added eight points and eight rebounds for the Huskies.
Toledo, who came into the game averaging 81 points per game (17th best in the NCAA), was held to just 66 points on 23-55 shooting. But it was the three point shooting and free throws that really doomed the Rockets. Toledo entered the evening shooting 35% from outside the arc, but was a mere 3-21 from three point range against the Huskies. That's 14%! Oh, and to make matters worse, they made just 17 of their 27 free throw attempts and were out rebounded by NIU 29-40. Pearson just missed a double-double, with his 27 points and nine rebounds. Julius Brown (13) and J.D. Weatherspoon (11) each reached double figures as well.
The game featured 10 lead changes and six ties, most in the first half. The Rockets lead by as many as six early on but the Huskies battled back, building a lead as large as five before it was whittled back down and Toledo took a 32-31 lead into the half.
But immediately after the break Bolin would nail a three, giving NIU a 34-32 lead. The Huskies would not look back, and never trailed again, slowly increasing their lead to as many as nine with 13 minutes remaining. Pearson would do his best to get a comeback going, hitting two 3-pointers and a mid-range jumper to cut the Huskie lead to just one with 6:19 remaining. But Bolin, Armstead, and Bowie would counter, scoring seven points in just over a minute to build the Huskies lead back up to eight.
A layup and some free throws from Pearson would whittle the lead down again. And with just over a minute left, Toledo trailed 66-62. But the Huskies would not be denied the victory. NIU made eight of their 10 free throws in the final minute while only allowing two lay-ups from the Rockets.
The win for the Huskies ties them for seventh place in the MAC with Miami. Toledo is now tied for second with Buffalo, both a game down of Western Michigan.
And as luck would have it, the next game for the Rockets will be Saturday, March 1 when they host Western Michigan in a battle for the top spot in the MAC.
The Huskies will also play their next game on Saturday, where they will look to get back to .500. Northern heads to Ypsilanti to face Eastern Michigan. EMU is a game ahead of NIU in the MAC standings and a win for the Huskies would propel them into sixth place.