DEKALB, Ill. - A week ago, the University of Toledo men's basketball team was riding a 14-game regular-season winning streak in the Mid-American Conference.
UT also was 4-0 in MAC play and threatening to run away with the West Division title.
Today, the Rockets woke up in second place in the division behind Central Michigan, after suffering their second embarrassing MAC loss in three days - 69-67 to Northern Illinois.
Pitiful shooting once again was UT's downfall yesterday, just as it was in Wednesday's one-point home loss to Ball State.
The Rockets (12-5 overall, 4-2 MAC) were just 3-for-22 from 3-point range for the second consecutive game and are shooting 13.6 percent (6-of-44) from beyond the arc in their past two games.
UT also is struggling from the field, where it made 23-of-63 from the floor yesterday and is shooting only 35.7 percent (44-of-123) during its first two-game losing streak in a year.
“We've got to start making some shots,” UT coach Stan Joplin said. “Right now, we're not a very good basketball team and it's very disturbing.”
As bad as the Rockets played, they still had a chance to beat the Huskies (4-11, 3-3 MAC) or force overtime.
Down by 68-57 with 1:16 to play, UT went on a 10-1 run to cut the Northern Illinois lead to 69-67 with 3.1 seconds remaining. Rory Jones sent an inbound pass to Garwin Patterson, who launched a 3-pointer.
Forward Greg Stempin snagged Patterson's airball in front of the rim, but Stempin missed two easy tap-in shots before the buzzer sounded.
“It was just typical of the way the game went for us,” Stempin said. “It's almost like there is a lid on the basket.”
It has been that way for the past two games.
Point guard Terry Reynolds was 1-for-12 yesterday, and shooting guard Nick Moore was 3-for-9. Together, they were 2-for-14 from beyond the arc.
Moore, the top 3-point shooter in the MAC, is 1-for-10 from that range in the past two games. And in UT's five losses, Reynolds has shot 26.4 percent (14-for-53) from the field and 35.7 percent (10-for-28) from beyond the arc.
Stempin was held scoreless in the first half and spent the final 13:44 of the half on the bench with two fouls. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting. The MAC player-of-the-year candidate was 0-for-5 from 3-point range, but did grab 11 rebounds.
Robierre Cullars finished 4-for-9 from the field and 1-for-3 from beyond the arc, while starting center Craig Rodgers was benched after scoring just one point while playing a season-low three minutes.
In the past two games, Stempin has shot 10-for-32 (31.2 percent) from the field and 1-for-13 from beyond the arc, while Cullars has been 9-for-23 (39.1 percent) and 1-for-8. Rodgers hasn't scored in double figures in the past 12 games.
UT's starting five had been supplying 87 percent of the team's offense before the Ball State game.
“As bad as we shot today, it's amazing we were even able to keep it close,” Joplin said. “We played three minutes of basketball - the last three minutes - with a sense of urgency. Other than that, I don't think we played very good basketball at all.”
Northern Illinois, which now holds a 10-9 series edge against the Rockets at Evans Field House, out-rebounded Toledo 46-34 while shooting 45.8 percent (27-of-59) from the floor. The Huskies made 60 percent of their 3-point shots (9-of-15), including 87.5 percent (7-of-8) in the second half.
Guard Stephen Jones led the Huskies with 16 points, while 3-point specialists Mike Brown and Al Sewasciuk had 14 each while combining to make 7 of 11 shots from beyond the arc.
Milo Kirsh scored 10 of his career-high 14 points during the first half off the bench for UT on 6-of-8 shooting. Reserve Rory Jones added 13.
“Just about everyone is struggling with their shots,” Stempin said. “We've just got to keep shooting. That's how we were winning games, shooting from the outside.”
Next up for UT is Central Michigan (11-4, 5-1 MAC) at home Wednesday. Central took over first place in the West Division after beating Eastern Michigan 60-51 last night.
“We're obviously not playing like we were before,” Joplin said. “We've got to figure out why and get it corrected before we play Central Michigan.”
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