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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2012

Rockets come up short against NIU


DEKALB, Ill. — The University of Toledo men’s basketball team came up short Wednesday evening in their quest to win the Mid-American Conference West division.

Even before the Rockets were upset 65-61 at Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan had already secured the title outright with a 54-53 win at Western Michigan.

UT trailed the Eagles by two games entering the evening. They’ll play Saturday at 2 p.m. at Savage Arena in a game the Rockets had hoped would be for a share of the division championship.

One positive came out of the night. UT, by virtue of Miami losing at Bowling Green, secured a first-round home game in the MAC tournament on Monday evening. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Thursday at the UT ticket office inside of Savage Arena or by calling 419-530-4653. UT (15-15, 6-9) will be the seventh or eighth seed and will host Ball State or Miami.

The Rockets went scoreless for the final 4:27 of Wednesday’s loss and snapped a four-game winning streak. Dominique Buckley scored 16 points to lead the Rockets for the second straight game. Julius Brown and Curtis Dennis followed with 12 and 11 points, respectively.

NIU (4-24, 3-12) went ahead 62-61 with 3:32 to go on a three-point play by Keith Gray. Gray’s tough shot in the paint on the ensuing possession gave NIU a three-point lead.

After shooting 52.7 percent in the opening 20 minutes, the Rockets couldn’t get their shots to fall in the second half (35.0 percent) and ended up with a 44.2 mark for the game. NIU registered a 41.2 FG% and outrebounded UT by a 31-25 margin.

UT was scorching at the charity stripe, knocking down 18-of-20 attempts (90.0%). NIU was nearly as good though with an 84.2 mark (16-of-19). NIU freshman Abdel Nader led his team with 12 points.

UT had two chances to tie the score at 64 but Brown and Buckley couldn’t convert on three-point attempts. UT forced a shot-clock violation trailing 64-61 with 7.8 seconds left but turned the ball over before getting off a shot.

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