Huskies ground Rockets to advance to MAC semi-finals


Huskies ground Rockets to advance to MAC semi-finals

James Krause

CLEVELAND, OHIO — The men’s basketball team upset the Toledo Rockets 80-76 in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament Thursday.

The seven-point underdog Huskies knocked off the second seed in the tournament to advance to their first MAC semifinals game since 2003.

Head Coach Mark Montgomery said he’s glad his team came out on the winning end of what he thought was a classic.

“Both teams played at a high level,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t expect anything different. It was a classic and fortunately we came away on the winning side.”

The Huskies were led by a 28 point performance from junior guard Eugene German and 13 second-half points from senior forward Levi Bradley. Senior guard Dante Thorpe added 18 points of his own.

Coach Montgomery said the performances of those three helped lead the Huskies to the win.

“German in the first half carried us,” Montgomery said. “Bradley, thank God he woke up in the second half. Thorpe got it going early. He’s very hard to guard off the dribble when he gets in the paint.”

Thorpe and German were responsible for the first 16 points for the Huskies with Thorpe having the first seven himself. German praised the two-way play and energy of Thorpe.

“[Thorpe] was wonderful tonight,” German said. “[Thorpe] came out with a lot of energy. That’s what happened, he came out with a lot of energy [and] he got us going.”

The Huskies trailed the Rockets early in the first until first-year forward Austin Richie gave NIU a 22-20 lead with a pair of 3-pointers. Richie finished the contest with nine points.

Related: Huskies hope for a different result in third Toledo contest

German added to the lead with a pair of threes and a layup to give NIU a 31-26 lead with 7:03 left in the half. He ended the half with 18 points as NIU led the Rockets 41-39 at halftime.

After a dominant half from the guards, Bradley finally got his first basket in the second half to help NIU get the jump on Toledo.

Toledo went on a 10-2 run ending with a layup and free throw from senior guard Chris Darrington to give the Rockets a 49-47 lead with 14:16 left in the contest.

A layup by senior forward Jaylen Key tied the game and another 3-pointer from Richie gave NIU the lead back only for Darrington to tie the game with another and-one layup.

The back-and-forth cycle continued with NIU pulling ahead again before Toledo came back to tie the game at 56 with 9:30 remaining thanks to a pair of free throws from senior forward Nate Navigato.

Bradley, with two points at that point, took over the game. The senior forward scored eight of the next ten points for NIU and put the Huskies ahead 66-60 with 6:40 left.

After a silent first half, Bradley said that adjustments by Toledo slowed their 3-point shooting and helped open up chances for him to shine.

“Toledo was switching it up,” Bradley said. “They were doubling me sometimes and then sometimes they wouldn’t, so I was just taking what the defense was going to give me.”

Just as they had before, the Rockets rallied. A pair of baskets from sophomore guard Marreon Jackson and a three from junior center Luke Knapke with 2:50 remaining tied the game at 68.

German hit a 3-pointer to take the lead and added a mid-range shot to make it 73-70 entering the final minute.

Senior forward Lacey James scored his only two points of the night at the free throw line with 47.6 seconds left.

NIU led by six when the shot clock turned off. Jackson knocked down a three and a layup to bring the Rockets one point from tying the contest.

Intentional fouls from the Rockets and free throws from Bradley and Thorpe helped seal the game for the Huskies, winning 80-76.

The Huskies will have a quick turnaround, playing the third seeded Bowling Green Falcons 8 p.m. Friday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The winner of the semi-final matchup will play for the MAC Championship Saturday.