Four Huskies scored in double figures Wednesday night, led by a career-high tying 17 points from sophomore Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium), but the NIU men’s basketball team fell to Toledo, 77-68, at Savage Arena.
The Rockets shot 50 percent (25-of-50) from the field.
Sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) added 16 points, redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) had 14 points, a team-high six rebounds and three assists. Freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) chipped in 10 for NIU.
“I thought that we controlled the tempo early and we had the pace of the game where we wanted,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Our Achilles heel was the first half turnovers and missed free throws early in the second half. If we would have made a few more of those free throws it would have been a two or three-point game, but our guys played as hard as they could against the team that, I think, is the best in the league.”
Baker scored five points in the early going to help NIU (7-10, 1-4 MAC) take a 7-4 lead. A pair of free throws from Bowie pushed the NIU lead to five, Toledo cut the advantage back to one, 9-8, until Baker knocked down his second triple of the contest with 14 minutes to play in the opening half.
Toledo (16-2, 4-1 MAC) pulled back even, 13-13, but a triple from senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker), making his 100th career appearance, pushed the Huskies back in front. Bolin finished with seven points and five rebounds off the bench for the Huskies.
Following the Bolin triple, Toledo answered with the next six, taking a 19-16 lead midway through the opening stanza.
A pair of free throws from Threloff brought the Huskies back within one, but Toledo responded with a 9-4 burst, giving the Rockets a 28-22 advantage with just over six minutes left in the first half.
After basket by Bowie brought the Huskies back within four, four-straight free throws by the Rockets gave Toledo a 34-26 lead at the intermission. Justin Drummond led all scorers with 12 points in the opening 20 minutes; Baker had nine and Bowie had eight to lead the way for NIU.
Toledo pushed its lead to double digits, 38-28, early in the second half, but five-straight points from Baker cut the Rocket lead in half, 38-33, with 16:20 remaining. The Rockets lead grew back to 10, but the Huskies continued to stay within striking distance as a pair of free throws from junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) and a layup by Threloff trimmed the lead to a half-dozen, 43-37.
The teams continued to go back-and-forth, with Toledo increasing the lead to nine, 50-41, and the Huskies answering again to cut it back to five, 50-45, with 10:51 left.
Another Toledo burst put the Rockets up by 13, 60-47, but the Huskies scored seven of the next eight, capped by a trifecta from Baker, to trim the Toledo lead back to seven, 61-54, with just under seven minutes remaining. Toledo responded with the next five and held off the Huskies for the nine-point victory.
Drummond led all scorers with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Julius Brown added 15 points while Nathan Boothe and Rian Pierson each chipped in 10 for the Rockets.
NIU will return home to the NIU Convocation Center on Saturday, Jan. 25, when the Huskies host Buffalo. Game time against the Bulls is slated for 1 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.