DeKALB — Toledo scored 17 first-half points off NIU turnovers and led by 18 at halftime.
Toledo score two second-half points from NIU turnovers as the Huskies outscored the Rockets by one in the second half.
Coach Rashon Burno and the players said that’s been the story of the season for the Huskies, who couldn’t overcome the first-half hole in an 84-67 to the Rockets on Saturday.
“It’s been our Achilles’ heel the entire year,” said NIU guard Kaleb Thornton, who scored 21 and had seven assists in the loss. “I feel like if we clean up our turnovers, it will clean up a lot of our problems. We can cover a lot of our problems without turning the ball over. If we can just shore some things up in practice like we’ve been trying to - it just didn’t work out today - I think we can get on the right track.”
The Rockets (11-6, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) broke things open early, scoring 17 straight to take a 34-14 lead with 5:17 left in the first half, holding the Huskies (5-13, 1-4) scoreless for almost six minutes.
NIU never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.
The Huskies turned the ball over 12 times in the first half. Burno said his team let those mistakes compound down the other end, leading to the 19 total points the Rockets scored for NIU turnovers in the game.
“It deflates you, especially playing a team as offensively talented as they are, that’s giving them too many bites of the apple,” Burno said. “It’s a ripple effect, right? Young kids tend to dwell on the next play, and it becomes an avalanche. A snowball effect. One play on the offensive shouldn’t affect the defensive end.
“We’re a young, immature team in that regard. One bad play, two bad plays equals six bad plays. When you play against a team like Toledo, that can be an 8-0, 10-0 run, and before you know it you’re down 12.”
Darweshi Hunter scored a career-best 22 for the Huskies, shooting 7 of 15 from the floor and 5 for 7 from long range. Thornton was 6 for 11 overall and also 5 for 7 on 3-pointers as part of his 20-point, seven-assist effort. The rest of the Huskies combined to shoot 0 for 10 on 3-pointers, including 0 for 9 by David Coit, who finished with six points.
The Huskies played without leading scorer Keshawn Williams for the second straight game, having won 73-54 against Central Michigan on Tuesday without him. Burno said there’s no timetable on his return.
“Keshawn is the All-MAC player we’ve had for two years, and we’re used to him getting us going on the offensive end and the defensive end,” Thornton said. “We’re going to have to have multiple people pick up and have better efforts.”
Hunter said his catch-and-shoot game was clicking, and that helped spark his confidence.
“I was a little more aggressive than I normally am seeing some shots go through the basket,” Hunter said. “That really got me going early.”