The Northern Illinois Huskies showed the MAC what they’re made of Saturday night as they picked up a huge road win over a very tough Toledo Rockets squad in a 74-72 victory. Five players scored in double-figures for Northern Illinois (13-8, 5-3 MAC), led by Marin Maric’s near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds. Jaelan Sanford and Jonathan Williams carried Toledo (11-10, 4-4 MAC) for much of the game with 29 and 21 points respectively.
The Rockets were able to jump ahead early in the first half with a 12-3 run as they took a 22-11 lead with 11:44 left in the half. However, the Huskies muscled their way back in the game with an 8-0 run of their own as three-pointers from Laytwan Porter and Austin Pauga knotted things up at 28-28 with 5:48 remaining. The two teams traded punches the rest of the way as NIU took a 40-37 advantage into the locker room at the intermission.
The teams were as hot as could be on offense in the first half as Northern Illinois shot 48.4% from the floor while Toledo shot a staggering 56% as the teams pretty even in a lot of areas. Two areas that weren’t even were rebounds and steals as NIU held dramatic advantages in both with a 19-9 edge on the boards and eight steals to UT’s two.
Putting the pressure on were the Huskies in the second half, as they reeled off a 9-3 run to take a 49-40 lead with 15:54 left in regulation. The advantage held for most of the period until an 8-0 run featuring three points each from Nate Navigato and Sanford cut the Toledo deficit to 70-69 with 41 ticks left on the clock.
A Porter trey with 25 seconds left seemingly put the game to bed, but Sanford answered with a three of his own to keep the Rockets’ hopes alive with 19 seconds remaining. A Sanford foul and a Porter free throw made the score 74-72 in favor of NIU as two missed free throws from Sanford and a Williams misfire from downtown ended the comeback bid for UT.
The Huskies showed why they should be regarded as one of the top teams in the MAC with a strong performance in a tough environment against a team in Toledo that can hurt you a lot of ways. Meanwhile, UT shouldn’t get too down on themselves; a couple of breaks and it could’ve knocked off NIU. The rematch in DeKalb on February 18 should be dandy and could be pivotal in seeding for the MAC Tournament.
The road to Cleveland doesn’t get any easier for Northern Illinois as the team hosts the Akron Zips Tuesday at 8 p.m. while Toledo hits the road for another tough MAC West opponent in the Ball State Cardinals at 7 p.m.