Sophomore wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) recorded his second consecutive double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds but Northern Illinois was unable to hang on to a late 3-point lead, falling to Toledo, 69-64, at the NIU Convocation Center.
Junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) added a career-best 18 points with six rebounds and freshman guard J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) tied a career-high with 10 points for the Huskies.
“It was a great where, I don’t know if we played our best, but we put ourselves in position to win the game,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “With three minutes to play we were up three, with the ball, but we just didn’t close it out. I thought the team played hard, we might have lacked a little energy coming out but we battled back.
“It feels good to have three guys in double figures, Abdel Nader with his second-straight double-double, Aksel Bolin with 18 and J.J. (Cravatta) gave us an unbelievable spark off the bench. It was anyone’s game, unfortunately we just didn’t close it out.”
Northern Illinois scored the first three point of the contest before Toledo answered with the next eight to take an early five-point advantage. Leading by three, 12-9, Toledo used a 10-2 run to take a 22-11 lead with 8:07 to play until the intermission.
NIU responded with a 6-0 burst to cut the Toledo lead in half. Sophomore forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) opened the run with a basket, freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) added a pair on a drive to the rim and freshman guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) closed the spurt with two free throws to cut the Toledo advantage to 22-17 with 5:11 left before the break.
Baker finished the game with five points, three rebounds and a career-high-tying four assists.
A basket by Reese Holliday slowed the NIU run, but the Huskies scored the next seven to push the run to 13-2 and even the game, 24-24. A basket by Nader, a pair of free throws from Bolin and a triple from Cravatta helped pull the Huskies back even with less than a minute left in the first half.
Toledo answered with the final four point of the half to take a 28-24 lead into the intermission. Julius Brown led all scorers with 10 points in the first 20 minutes for Toledo. Nader led NIU with seven points and seven rebounds before the intermission.
After a Bolin trifecta brought the Huskies within three, 36-33, Toledo used a quick 6-0 burst to push its lead back to nine, the largest of the second half, 42-33, with 16:28 to play. NIU pulled back within striking distance by scoring the next six, capped by a triple from Nader, to cut the lead back to three, 42-39.
With the Rockets leading by seven, 50-43, NIU went on a 9-2 run to even the contest with 7:25 remaining. Keith Gray opened the run with a pair of free throws; he then added another free throw a minute later. Cravatta connected on a triple from the corner and Baker went coast-to-coast for a layup, got fouled and completed the 3-point play, to even the game at 52.
Still tied, 55-55, Nader connected on his third triple of the day to give the Huskies a 58-55 lead with 4:12 left, but Toledo answered, scoring the next six to take a 61-58 lead with 1:49 to play.
A basket by Bolin with 27 seconds remaining pulled the Huskies back within a pair but Toledo, who came into the second as the second-best free throw shooting team in the country, made its shots from the charity stripe and escaped with the victory.
Brown led Toledo with 20 points; Matt Smith added 14 while Rian Pierson, the leading scorer in the MAC, was held to 12 points with a team-best eight rebounds.
NIU will conclude its three-game homestand on Wednesday, Feb. 6, when the Huskies host Bowling Green. Game time against the Falcons is scheduled for 7 p.m., at the NIU Convocation Center.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.