DeKALB – Toledo won its third-straight game on Saturday afternoon after a gritty effort propelled the Rockets (9-10, 5-3 MAC) to a 69-64 road victory over Northern Illinois (5-15, 3-5 MAC). It was UT's first victory in DeKalb since 2007, as well its third league road win in five outings.
"If there's a definition of a ‘grind-out' win, this game was certainly it," Toledo Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "We had too many turnovers and our shots weren't falling, but we played hard and won the rebounding battle (33-30). Winning on the road isn't easy, but we came up with big plays when we needed to."
Sophomore G Julius Brown led the Rockets with 20 points with junior F Matt Smith (14 pts.) and junior G Rian Pearson (12 pts., team-high eight reb.) joining him in double figures.
The Huskies were paced by the tandem of sophomore F Abdel Nader (19 points, game-high 11 reb.) and junior F Aksel Bolin (18 pts., six reb.).
Toledo, which will host Miami and Eastern Michigan next week, shot 45.2 percent from the field but limited the Huskies to a 38.5 shooting mark. The Rockets hit just four-of-15 attempts (26.7 percent) from three-point range and committed 17 turnovers. It was the most miscues for UT since having 18 at Detroit on Dec. 5.
Pearson gave Toledo the lead for good, 59-58, with 2:30 remaining when he stole the ball from Nader and drove the length of the court for a three-point play. Freshman C Nathan Boothe extended the lead to 61-58 with a pair of free throws at the 1:49 mark.
Brown then made it a two-possession game when he split a double-team and found Smith free under the basket for a two-handed slam and a 64-60 lead with 44.0 seconds to play.
The Rockets knocked down five-of-six free throws the rest of the way to seal the victory. UT, which entered the game ranked second in the nation with a 79.0 FT%, enjoyed a significant advantage at the line by making 27-of-35 attempts (77.1 percent). NIU converted 17-of-26 (65.4 percent) from the charity stripe.
Toledo started the game strong surging to a 22-11 advantage with 8:05 to play following a Smith slam. NIU responded with a 13-2 run and evened the contest at 24-24 on freshman J.J. Cravatta's trey just under a minute before halftime. Brown answered with a three-point bomb of his own though and Pearson added a free throw to give UT a 28-24 cushion at intermission.
Toledo maintained its lead in the second stanza until a Bolin free throw put the hosts in front, 55-54, with 5:57 left. After Boothe hit one of two free throws, Nader drilled a three-pointer to put UT down 58-55 at the 4:08 mark before Pearson sparked the Rockets' comeback.