Rockets guard Justin Drummond steals the ball from NIU’s Aaron Armstead during their game on Wednesday. Drummond scored 24 points and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds in UT’s win.
University of Toledo guard Justin Drummond played his worst game of the season on Saturday, packaging his most turnovers of the season with his fewest points of the season during a road win at Akron.
Not starting for the first time “messed up my flow a little bit,” Drummond said Wednesday.
The next time the Rockets took the floor, Drummond was flowing like a faucet, a claim shared by few others during a tedious 77-68 win against Northern Illinois.
Appearing in the 72nd game of his productive college career, the junior from the Washington D.C. area posted his first double-double, providing perhaps the only worthwhile talking point from a game slowed by 30 second-half fouls.
Drummond missed his first two attempts from the field before draining his final nine for 24 points, the most in his inaugural season with the Rockets. His 11 rebounds established a new personal best and helped his team win the battle on the boards 32-28 against an NIU squad sitting atop the Mid-American Conference in rebounding margin.
“Badly,” Drummond said of his desire to make good for a four-point, seven turnover clunker on Saturday. “I didn’t have one of my greatest games so I wanted to come out and give my team a boost today.”
There are three teams in the MAC with one league loss: Toledo (16-2, 4-1), and two teams the Rockets defeated — Akron and Buffalo. Thus, if the regular season ended today — relax, there are 13 games left — the Rockets would head to Cleveland carrying the No. 1 seed into the MAC tournament.
The win, which came in spite of NIU attempting 31 free throws, bumped Toledo’s home record to 9-0, a mark that can hit double digits on Sunday against Kent State.
Coach Tod Kowalczyk admitted his players may have started drifting to Sunday’s whiteout against the Golden Flashes, but he mostly was pleased with his team’s composure encountering repeated whistles and not being able to pull away from one of the league’s bottom feeders.
“It was a frustrating game,” Kowalczyk said. “I’d like to think our players didn’t look frustrated. I thought our body language was good. I don’t think I looked frustrated on the sideline.
“Hey, you’re going to have games like that.”
Drummond provided energy when there was none.
Named the sixth man of the year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference during his time at Loyola (Md.), Drummond returned to the bench to start Saturday’s game as part of Kowalczyk’s strategy for combating the Zips’ wave of formidable reserves. Drummond never looked right in 21 listless minutes, with a 14-point win masking his struggles.
“I knew he’d bounce back,” Kowalczyk said. “That’s what good players do. Everyone’s going to have an off night. He bounced back like I knew he would.”
He hit one of his two 3-pointers for a 28-22 lead with six minutes to go before halftime and headed to the locker room with 12 points in a 34-26 lead.
A nifty second-half drive in which he split defenders on the baseline for an up-and-under expanded the gap to 50-41. His 15-foot dagger with 8 minutes, 15 seconds left accounted for much-needed breathing room, putting the Rockets up 60-47 for their largest lead to that point.
He cradled his career-high 10th rebound, which Drummond said he was “hunting for,” on an errant NIU heave with two minutes left.
“Just trying to keep the guys energized,” said Drummond, who also had three assists. “That game was a little boring, starting and stopping. We couldn’t really get a good rhythm.”
Point guard Julius Brown contributed 15 points, knocking down three shots from the 3-point line. Strangely, the MAC’s assist leader posted only one assist for the second game straight.
Rian Pearson and Nathan Boothe scored 10 points apiece, and J.D. Weatherspoon had nine.
Travon Baker scored 17 points for NIU (7-10, 1-4), which features zero healthy double-digit scorers. Darrell Bowie followed with 16 points, but the forward blew a lay up that would have resulted in a one-score game midway through the second half.