Toledo (8-10) at Northern Illinois (5-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 2, 4 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convocation Center (9,100) -- DeKalb, Illinois. Television: None. Home Record: Toledo 4-2, NIU 3-5. Away Record: Toledo 3-8, NIU 2-9. Neutral Record: Toledo 1-0, NIU 0-0. Conference Record: Toledo 4-3, NIU 3-4. Series Record: Toledo leads, 39-23.
GAME NOTES: The rising Toledo Rockets head to the Convocation Center on Saturday to square off with the Northern Illinois Huskies in Mid-American Conference action.
Toledo holds a 39-23 all-time series lead versus NIU, but the Huskies have won the last five meetings in DeKalb.
Tod Kowalczyk's Rockets picked up their second win in a row and improved to 8-10 overall on Wednesday by posting an 85-78 triumph at Ball State. The victory put Toledo in second place in the MAC's West Division, just one game behind Western Michigan. The team has been one of the most efficient at the charity stripe in the nation, connecting on 52-of-58 over its last three games to rise to a 79.0 percent clip for the season. The efficiency from the free- throw line has helped the Rockets to the fourth-best scoring offense in the MAC at 68.9 ppg, but they are third to last on the defensive end with an allowed average of 70.1 ppg.
Toledo was fueled by the trio of Rian Pearson, Matt Smith, and Julius Brown in its come-from-behind win over Ball State. Pearson poured in a game-high 24 points, Smith added 19 points, and Brown posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Rockets forced 15 Cardinal turnovers and converted them into 26 points, which helped them overcome a 41-25 deficit in rebounding. Pearson (16.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is leading the MAC in scoring with 18.6 ppg and also the team in rebounding with 6.3 rpg. Brown is ninth in the league with 13.3 ppg and third with 5.5 assists per contest, but he is shooting a rather pedestrian 39.6 percent from the floor. Smith and Dominique Buckley have both been chiming in offensively enough to produce over nine points per outing apiece.
As for the Huskies, they have been perhaps the most sporadic team in the nation in recent weeks. NIU looked great on Jan. 23 as it coasted to a 74-61 victory over Central Michigan, but it followed that with a 42-25 setback to Eastern Michigan in a contest it broke its own NCAA Division I record for futility, scoring just four points in the opening half of action. Mark Montgomery's squad bounced back on Wednesday night as Abdel Nader drained a jumper to lift it to a 67-65 win over Kent State, marking the first win over the Golden Flashes since 2003.
As advertised in the loss to EMU, the Huskies are one of the worst offensive teams in the conference and net only 56.4 ppg. They have only the sixth best scoring defense with 64.7 points allowed, which is a big reason why they have failed to register back-to-back victories at any point this season. Nader is pacing NIU with 14.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, but none of his teammates are remotely close to his team-leading averages.
The Huskies are going to have trouble keeping up with the MAC's leading scorer in this one. NIU will need Nader to put the team on his back once again if it hopes to achieve its first winning streak of 2013.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toledo 72, Northern Illinois 58
02/02 10:35:33 ET