Huskies hope for a different result in third Toledo contest

By Jayce Eustice

Men’s basketball led from start to finish in its 80-61 victory Monday over Ohio in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Championships. With the win the Huskies earned their first victory in the MAC Tournament since the 2015-2016 season when NIU took down Western Michigan 56-50.

The Huskies, with a 16-16 overall and an 8-10 conference record,  will now turn their focus to the Toledo Rockets. The teams will play 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio.

Related: Men’s basketball takes convincing win in round one of MAC Tournament

NIU and Toledo have matched up twice on the season with the Rockets taking a victory in both games.

Toledo took the first game 55-69 on Feb. 2. The Huskies fell behind by 12 at halftime before making a run in the second half to bring the score within one. The Rockets made a late run to put to the game out of reach.

Senior guard Dante Thorpe led the Huskies’ scoring attack with a game-high 19 points while knocking down 7-12 attempts from the floor. Junior guard Eugene German contributed 15 points of his own and found his teammates for 4 assists.

Related: Huskies drop to second in MAC West after loss to Toledo

In the two teams second matchup, the Huskies held the game closer but fell 54-57 on Feb. 23. This time around NIU held a 23-21 lead at halftime but couldn’t hold on for the win. Toledo scored 9 of the final 13 points to come back and grab the late victory over the Huskies.

German led NIU with a game-high 22 points to accompany his 8 rebounds. Each team made eight 3-points in the contest but the Rockets 11 made free throws to the Huskies 6 proved to be the difference.

Related: Huskies drop sixth straight MAC match

Toledo enters Thursday’s contest off a first-round bye with a 25-6 overall record and playing to a 13-5 MAC record. The Rockets’ offense averages 77.3 points per game while allowing 67.7. Good enough for a 9.6 scoring margin that ranks second in the MAC behind Buffalo.

NIU is middle of the pack in offensive and defensive efficiency ranking seventh for offense and sixth for defense. The Huskies 2.9 scoring margin ranks them seventh in the MAC.

The Huskies showcase the MAC’s second leading scorer in German who comes in averaging 19.8 points per game, just behind Kent State senior guard Jaylin Walker with 21.9.

Toledo has the MAC’s most efficient 3-point attack, averaging 37.8 percent on the year. NIU will have to find a way to counter the Rocket’s offense as their defense allows opponents to shoot an average of 35.2 percent on 3-point attempts. The Huskies’ defense ranks tenth in the league in opponent 3-point percentage.

Recent history doesn’t favor the Huskies but if college basketball fans know anything it’s that in March anything can happen.

NIU and Toledo will tip-off 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio with a trip to the MAC Championships semi-finals on the line.