Men’s basketball sparks comeback, falter in overtime

By Krystal Ward

DeKALB — Men’s basketball was unable to complete the comeback against the University of Toledo Rockets and fell in overtime, 88-80. The Huskies are 14-13 overall and 6-8 in the Mid-American Conference. NIU travels to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to take on the Central Michigan University Chippewas 6 p.m. Tuesday.

University of Toledo

After holding a 15-point second half lead, Toledo tied the game with 31 seconds left in regulation.

Sophomore guard Austin Pauga shot a 3-pointer to try to beat the buzzer but was unable to connect, and the game headed to overtime where the Huskies ultimately lost, 88-80.

“Down 15 [points], the guys didn’t give up,” Montgomery said. “They fought back hard, gave themselves the opportunity to possibly win the game, but [we] credit Toledo for making big shots down the stretch. We didn’t capitalize to put the game away, and that was frustrating. Coming off the Ball State game and not closing out this game… it’s almost heartbreaking.”

The Huskies and Rockets exchanged buckets to start the overtime period, but the Rockets hit timely shots to take a 79-76 with under two minutes to play.

Maric sank two free throws to cut Toledo’s lead to one, 79-78, and the Rockets called timeout.

Toledo Sophomore forward Nate Navigato hit a 3-pointer with a little over a minute to play to give the Rockets an 82-78 lead.

NIU senior guard Aaric Armstead went to the line with under 40 seconds left but missed both attempts. The Rockets were able to fend off the Huskies the rest of the way and closed out the game.

Freshman guard Eugene German led NIU with a career-high 27 points in 33 minutes, shooting 11-for-14 from the field, and Maric had a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 50 percent (7-of-14) from the field.

Pauga also scored in double-figures with 12 points, going 4-for-7 from the 3-point line.

The Huskies only committed two turnovers in the game, the lowest under Head Coach Mark Montgomery’s tutelage.

“Being here six years, two turnovers is amazing, especially when you’re down,” Montgomery said. “Pauga coming off the bench gives you 12 [points]. Marin didn’t practice for two days [due to illness]. He’s been gutting it out and giving you 24 [points] and 10 [rebounds]. German [had a] big-time game there for a freshman. There are some positives.” The Huskies shot 46 percent (30-for-66) for the game while the Rockets shot 55 percent (30-for-55).

The Rockets started the game on a 10-3 run, but after NIU closed the gap, the teams went back-and-forth.

German showed his speed and athleticism, attacking the rim after a missed free-throw attempt and laying it back in to give NIU a 20-19 lead.

German led the Huskies with nine points in the first half, shooting 4-for-5 from the field.

Toledo held the Huskies scoreless for the last two minutes of the half and went on a 6-0 run in the last two minutes of the half to take a 38-32 lead into halftime.

The Rockets started the second half off with an air-ball, but redshirt freshman center Luke Knapke was there for the put-back. Armstead raced back down to the other end and found German who laid it in.

Toledo extended its lead to 11, 51-40, before a timeout on the floor was called. German scored six of the Huskies’ points in the first five minutes of the second half.

Maric scored 10 consecutive points for the Huskies to pull them within single-digits of the Rockets, 62-55, midway through the second half.

Central Michigan University

The Chippewas have the No. 1 scoring offense in the MAC, averaging 89.5 points per game, and boast the nation’s leading scorer in junior guard Marcus Keene (29.8). Keene and senior guard Braylon Rayson (20.7) are first and second in the MAC, respectively, in points per game.

Keene’s averaging over five assists, to just under five turnovers, per game. Rayson’s averaging three assists to three turnovers per game.

Central Michigan has dropped its past three games while NIU has dropped its last four.

Huskies were able to hold off a late rally by the Chippewas in their last meeting on Jan. 7, winning the game 87-83. NIU leads the all-time series 54-49.