Four players scored in double figures, led by 17 points from sophomore Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) as the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team knocked off Toledo, 74-66, on Wednesday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
The Huskies held the Rockets to just 34.4 percent (11-of-32) shooting in the second half to overcome a one-point halftime deficit.
Redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) just missed a double-double with 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds, senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) and junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) each added 11 points.
With the victory, NIU improves to 13-14 on the season, 7-8 in Mid-American Conference play, the loss drops Toledo, who came into the contest ranked 32nd in the RPI, to 23-5, 11-4 in MAC play.
“I told my team when we got to the locker room that I was very proud with the heart and toughness they showed,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Anytime you play against the best team in the league, the best scoring team, you need multiple guys to step up.
“We played with unbelievable toughness, had four guys in double figures, and Darrell Bowie with eight, (it was a) big time team win and hopefully this will give us momentum going into Eastern, Western and Ball State. Toledo is awfully tough, I thought tonight we just dug down a little harder, finished and found a way to win.”
NIU outrebounded Toledo 40-29; the Huskies scored 18 second chance points to just nine for the Rockets and the NIU reserves scored 18 points to just six for the Toledo bench.
The first half saw the Huskies and Rockets go back-and-forth, with five ties and nine lead changes in the opening 20 minutes.
With the Rockets leading by three, sophomore J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) had a tip-in and Threloff made a jump hook, pushing the Huskies back in front, 29-28, with 1:44 left in the half. Toledo scored the next four to regain the lead, but a basket by sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) cut that advantage to just one, 32-31, at the intermission.
Bowie finished with eight points, to go along with eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
The Huskie defense locked the Rockets down early in the second half, holding Toledo to just 1-of-11 shooting from the field in the opening eight minutes of the second half.
As the defense held Toledo in check, the NIU offense built a nine-point advantage, 46-37. Baker scored seven points in the opening five minutes of the second half and Aaron Armstead made back-to-back jumpers to give the Huskies the nine-point lead.
Toledo clawed back into the game, cutting the Huskie lead to just one, 54-53, with 6:14 left, but NIU responded with a 7-0 run. Bolin started the burst with a triple from the wing and Aaron Armstead and Bowie each added layups after Toledo missed threes as the NIU lead went back to eight, 61-53, with 4:10 left.
In the final three minutes, NIU made 13-of-16 free throw attempts as the Huskies went on to knock off the league leaders in the MAC. NIU finished the contest 25-of-30 (83.3 percent) from the charity stripe.
Rian Pearson led the Rockets with 27 points and nine rebounds, Julius Brown added 13 points and J.D. Weatherspoon chipped in 11 points.
NIU will return to action on Saturday, March 1, when the Huskies travel to Eastern Michigan for the first game of a two-game swing through the State of Michigan. Game time against the Eagles is slated for 1 p.m. CT.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.