Toledo’s Jaelan Sanford drives to the basket past Northern Illinois’ Noah McCarty during the Rockets’ loss Saturday. Sanford had a career-high 29 points. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Jaelan Sanford had a career day for the University of Toledo men’s basketball team on Saturday at Savage Arena, but there are two shots he would like to have back.
A career-best 29-point performance was spoiled by two misses at the free-throw line that could have tied the game late and capped a frantic comeback by the Rockets. Instead, Toledo fell 74-72 to Northern Illinois at Savage Arena.
Toledo (11-10, 4-4 MAC) trailed 70-61 with 2:57 left, but went on an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to cut the lead to 70-69 after a 3-point play by Sanford.
IN PICTURES: Northern Illinois 74, Toledo 72
Northern Illinois’ Laytwan Porter hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, but Sanford matched it with a quick 3-pointer and Toledo trailed 73-72 with 19 seconds left.
After Porter made one of two free throws, Sanford was fouled on a drive to the basket and stepped to the line with a chance to tie.
“I’ve been in that position plenty of times, it is just all in your head,” Sanford said.
“Two free throws with five seconds to play, you have to make them,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk added. “He’s just got to hold his follow through. I love the kid to death, he’s a heck of a player.”
Toledo had one last desperation chance, but after NIU’s Aaric Armstead missed the front-end of a one-and-one, Jonathan Williams stepped out of bounds after catching an outlet pass.
After a road win at Ohio had Toledo tied atop the MAC West Division, the Rockets missed an opportunity for a big win against Northern Illinois, one of the co-leaders of the MAC West.
“It was certainly a disappointing game,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought in the first half, there were two key things preventing us from having a pretty good lead. We were up by eight or ten points, but we had some really bad turnovers which led to some transition for them. And then we got out-scrapped for loose balls. We knew their game was going to be creating transition off of their defense and also missed shots. They are a great offensive rebounding team.”
Jonathan Williams had 21 points for Toledo, while Steve Taylor, Jr., had seven points and 17 rebounds.
Marin Maric led Northern Illinois (13-8, 5-3 MAC) with 15 points, Porter scored 12, Armstead and Dontel Highsmith scored 11 each, and Levi Bradley had 10 points.
Toledo was outrebounded 36-27 by the Huskies, who had 12 offensive rebounds compared to just two for the Rockets. While Taylor had 17 rebounds, no other Toledo player had more than three.
“It’s a five-man proposition,” Kowalczyk said. “We talked about guard rebounds a lot this week. It’s five guys, and we can’t rely just on Steve Taylor on the glass.”
The Rockets led 22-11 in the first half after a Williams layup with 11:44 left.
“I think Steve [Taylor] was setting some great screens and we were just moving the ball well and getting some great shots,” Sanford said.
Northern Illinois had a 21-9 run over the next eight minutes and took a 32-31 lead with 3:32 left in the half, and had a 40-37 lead at halftime.
Toledo committed 10 turnovers in the first half, which led to 13 points for the Huskies.
“We emphasized not turning the ball over, but we had too many at the start of the game,” Sanford said. “If we clean those up, it would have been a better opportunity for us.”
Kowalczyk said a few Toledo players were dealing with sickness and, while he didn’t want to use that as an excuse, he expected that others would be able to pick up the slack.
“We had some guys sick today and I wanted the other guys to step up their energy,” Kowalczyk said. “There are going to be days where someone is not feeling great. The other guys have to pick them up. That just didn’t happen and I’m disappointed with those guys.”
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