Toledo stunned by last-place NIUWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
With a shot at sharing the Mid-American Conference West Division Championship on the line, Toledo squandered an eight point second half lead and lost at last place Northern Illinois on Feb. 29.
In the end, Eastern Michigan (14-16, 9-6 MAC) clinched the MAC West with a last-second game winner over Western Michigan, which would have ended UT’s chances at the division. Still, the loss to the Huskies (4-24, 3-12) broke Toledo’s (15-15, 6-9) five-game winning streak and added another blown lead to the Rockets’ resume.
Despite the loss, Toledo earned a home game in the first round of the MAC Tournament. Its opponent will be either Miami (OH) or Ball State at 7 p.m. March 5, depending on the outcome of this weekend’s games. Tickets will be on sale starting at 10 a.m. March 1 at the UT Ticket Office.
Toledo junior guard Dominique Buckley led the way for the Rockets with a game-high 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Reigning back-to-back MAC West Player of the Week Juice Brown (4 of 15) scored 12 points, and league Player of the Year candidate Rian Pearson (3 of 7) recorded eight points and five rebounds.
Abdel Nader led the Huskies with 12 points while Aksel Bolin chipped in with 10 points and eight rebounds. Nader is the lone NIU player who is scoring over six points per game this season.
After trailing at halftime, the Rockets appeared to take control in the second half, leading by as many as eight with 7:27 remaining at 57-49. Northern Illinois, however, scored six straight points to get back into it and took a 62-61 lead at 3:32 that it wouldn’t give up.
Toledo had a chance to tie the game at 64 but both Brown and junior guard Curtis Dennis missed on three-point attempts. UT forced a shot-clock violation to get the ball back with 7.8 seconds remaining but didn’t get a shot off before time expired as the Huskies prevailed.
With the loss and Eastern Michigan’s win, the March 3 season finale between the two schools lost a bit of drama. Still, Toledo will be looking to clinch the No. 7 seed in the MAC Tournament and get some momentum coming back into the game when the Rockets host EMU at 2 p.m. in Savage Arena.