Timely plays from the Huskies’ upperclassmen and hot shooting throughout the game proved just enough to propel NIU past second-seeded Toledo 80-76 on Thursday, and on to the Huskies’ first MAC Tournament semifinal appearance since 2003.
NIU shot 56.4 percent (31-for-55) overall and 58.8 percent (10-for-17) on 3-pointers.
NIU (17-16) led 68-60, only to see the Rockets tie the game with 2:50 to go at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Eugene German and Luke Knapke then traded 3s, but German responded with a runner in the lane, and NIU led 73-70 lead with 1:39 left in regulation. German led all scorers with 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting, including 5-for-9 from 3-point range.
“Eugene German in the first half carried us. Levi Bradley, thank God he woke up in the second half,” NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. “Unbelievable game, but both teams played at a high level, hard-fought.”
Levi Bradley and Dante Thorpe combined to shoot 5-for-6 from the free-throw line to close the game. Thorpe scored 18 points and Bradley scored 13, all in the second half. Newman grad Noah McCarty had an assist and was 0-for-3 from the field in 8 minutes.
“Dante, he was wonderful tonight. I honestly feel like he should be on the all-defensive team,” German said. “Came out with a lot of energy. So that’s what happened; he came out with a lot of energy, he got us going.”
The Huskies, after falling behind seven in the early going of the first half, caught fire, only for Toledo (25-7) to respond. German and Thorpe scored NIU’s first 16 points, as German raced to 18 first-half points to pace the Huskies. Austin Richie sank all three of his 3-point attempts, scoring nine points.
Toledo had five players score in double figures, led by Jackson’s 17 points.
“If you look at our scores, every game’s decided the last 4 or 5 minutes,” Montgomery said. “We had a tough February where we lost some close games, but our conference is ranked eighth-toughest in the country, and you have some very good teams. Awfully tough to win on the road, and we had some people come in our building and play exceptional basketball.”