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HomeSportsUT
Published: Thursday, 1/9/2003

Rockets fire off a dud

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo's A.J. Shellabarger gets a block against Northern Illinois' Jay Bates during the first half last night at Savage Hall. Bates scored 23 points to lead the Huskies as they pulled away from the Rockets early. Toledo's A.J. Shellabarger gets a block against Northern Illinois' Jay Bates during the first half last night at Savage Hall. Bates scored 23 points to lead the Huskies as they pulled away from the Rockets early.
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Nine days after shocking then-No. 14 Michigan State, the University of Toledo returned home last night and laid an egg.

A big egg.

The only good thing for the Rockets was that not many people saw their 72-65 loss to Mid-American Conference lightweight Northern Illinois, which had lost three consecutive games.

“It's embarrassing,” point guard Sammy Villegas said.

“Obviously, we're not able to handle success yet,” coach Stan Joplin said. “I thought we took a couple of steps backward tonight. The game with Michigan State really doesn't mean anything now.”

Northern Illinois (5-8, 1-2 MAC) confused and frustrated Toledo (7-5, 1-1) with its pesky zone defense and the Huskies scored 48 points in the paint to snap an 11-game losing streak against the Rockets before an announced crowd of 4,044 fans in Savage Hall.

NIU won at Toledo for the first time in 20 years while snapping UT's 13-game home winning streak.

“I thought Northern Illinois played well,” Joplin said. “Our defense was nonexistent. Forty-eight points in the paint is mind-boggling. They just took it right at us.

“I thought we were too casual on offense and shot the ball too quickly. I think they outhustled us. We took the path of least resistance.

“We're not that good yet where we can just show up and win. When we needed a big play, we just couldn't stop anybody.”

The Rockets led 3-0 and 3-2 and that was it. It was all Northern Illinois after that. The Huskies led by as many as 17 points in the second half. Toledo pulled within five points at 62-57 with 2:38 to play, but could get no closer.

“It's a hole we never should have gotten ourselves into,” senior guard Nick Moore said. “If we would have come out and played like we should have, we wouldn't have had to worry about being in a hole.”

Moore led the Rockets with 21 points - all coming on 3-pointers - and needs just one more trey to pass Chad Kamstra as the school's all-time leader. Although he made 7 of 14 shots and 7 of 11 from beyond the arc, Moore was not in a very good mood.

“It's pretty embarrassing to beat a team like Michigan State and then come home and lose to Northern Illinois, [which] had been struggling so far this season,” he said. “I'm very disappointed and upset.”

Moore's eight teammates were a combined 15-for-44 shooting, including 6-for-20 from 3-point range.

Keith Triplett, who had been averaging a team-high 20.9 points in the last seven games, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting. He was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Villegas didn't fare much better. He had six points on 2-for-11 shooting and was 2-for-9 from 3-point range.

Meanwhile, NIU senior guard Jay Bates, who had been averaging just eight points per game, scored a career-high 23 on 8-for-10 shooting. He also pressured the Rockets' guards into several turnovers - the Huskies had eight steals and 18 points off 15 UT turnovers.

The majority of Bates' baskets came on close-in shots after penetration. He also made 7 of 11 free throws. And Northern Illinois shot 50 percent from the field, making 27 of 54 shots, but the Huskies were just 2 of 8 from 3-point range.

“Teams are going to look and see how we struggled tonight against a zone and they're going to think they can do the same thing against us,” Moore said. “They controlled the game and they had strong control of it the whole time.”

The Rockets will attempt to rebound from last night's loss Saturday when they play at Marshall (7-3, 3-0 MAC).



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