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Men's Basketball

Rockets slip past NIU

DeKALB – Julius Brown's free throw went off the front of the rim before sinking in to the basket.

It gave Toledo a four-point lead over Northern Illinois with four seconds left at the NIU Convocation Center, basically sealing a Rockets win. Brown would go on to sink his second attempt, and Toledo would get a 69-64 victory.

Free throws were a common theme for Toledo (9-10, 5-3 MAC). The Rockets would attempt 35, converting 27 of them (77.1 percent). The Huskies (5-15, 3-5 MAC) committed 25 fouls, something NIU couldn't afford to do against a team which came into the game second in the nation in terms of free-throw percentage.

"One of our keys was to defend without fouling. And sometimes you have to adjust to how the game's being called," NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. "The tough thing about fouls were, we had a lot of them at the end of the shot clock, where we defended pretty well for 25-30 seconds and then the whistle blew.

"Guys were playing aggressive. Sometimes you just have to lay back a little bit and contest the shot."

What didn't help matters was the fact sophomore wing Abdel Nader, the Huskies' leading scorer, had to spend more time on the bench in the second half with foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 8:50 left in the second half. Nader didn't end up fouling out, and finished the game with a team-high 19 points. Brown led all scorers with 20.

Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk described the game as a grind-it-out win. He did mention the fact he thought his team fouled too much as well. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they were only able to convert 65.4 percent (17 of 26) of their free-throw attempts.

"We had our chance at the free-throw line, we got there 26 times," Montgomery said. "You just can't miss nine."

NIU led, 58-56, with 3:13 to go in the game. Throughout the afternoon, the Huskies couldn't go on that big run to separate themselves. NIU did have two other players in double figures, Aksel Bolin (18 points) and J.J. Cravatta (10 points).

"Aksel's been a lot more aggressive the past couple games. It's definitely helping our team," Nader said. "... It's great to have him being aggressive and attacking the basket and shooting more."

Montgomery added that Cravatta has just been gaining more confidence with increased playing time. The freshmen's 10 points tied a career high, which was set against Ohio Jan. 16.

"I think J.J.'s been putting the time in in practice," Montgomery said. "He's getting in the gym and he's taking shots. [His play] also evolves when you get an opportunity and get some more minutes."

The Huskies continue MAC play Wednesday when they host Bowling Green at the Convocation Center. Tip-off is 7 p.m.

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