TOLEDO, OH - Toledo's
first win of the Mid-American Conference campaign was within reach on Wednesday
evening against MAC West Division leader Northern Illinois
but the Huskies came up with the key plays down the stretch to register a 58-54
victory in Savage Arena.
NIU (8-8) maintained its perfect win-loss mark in conference play at 4-0 with the win, while the Rockets dropped to 3-15 overall and 0-4 in league action.
"You're never satisfied with a loss but I was happy that we came out and fought and played like we are capable of playing," Toledo Head Coach Gene Cross said. "We have to shoot better than 36 percent of course, but the one thing I was very happy with was our field-goal percentage defense. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win, but we just need to make the plays down the stretch."
Freshman G Malcolm Griffin led four UT players in double figures with 13 points. Freshman G Josh Freelove contributed a season-high 11 points, junior F Justin Anyijong posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds and freshman G Jake Barnett scored 10 points.
Junior G Xavier Silas matched his season average with 19 points to lead NIU's attack, including a pair of treys in the final minutes to lift the visitors to the victory.
Silas' first three-point bomb gave the Huskies a 44-42 advantage with 7:17 to play. Anyijong tied the contest with a pair of free throws at the six-minute mark, but Silas provided NIU the lead for good at 47-44 with another trey with 5:50 remaining.
Toledo then nearly rallied from a 54-46 deficit in the final two-and-a-half minutes. Barnett knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:12 to play and Anyijong connected from downtown following sophomore G Larry Bastfield's steal to make it a 54-51 contest. UT had a chance to climb within a point but Griffin converted just one of two free-throw attempts.
That was as close as the Rockets could come as Anderson hit four of six free throws to clinch the win.
The Rockets jumped on NIU early, surging to an 11-2 advantage in the first six minutes but the Huskies slowly clawed their way back into the contest. Back-to-back treys from Bastfield and Barnett put UT ahead 6-0 and layups from Freelove and Griffin extended its margin to 10-2. Barnett provided Toledo its largest lead of the half, 16-5, with a trey at the 11:05 mark.
The Rockets limited the Huskies to a 24.0 field-goal percentage in the first half, but NIU rebounded to shoot 50.0 percent in the second half.
"I thought we came out with some fire tonight and defended well in the first half," Cross said. "We weren't as effective defensively in the second half as I would have liked and had a couple of defensive lapses on Xavier Silas' threes that made a big difference in the game."
Toledo is back in action on Saturday, Jan. 23 when it travels to Kalamazoo, MI to battle Western Michigan. Tip-off time is set for 2:00 p.m.