The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team trailed by just a pair early in the second half, but a 17-1 run helped Western Michigan pull away to a 71-54 victory over the Huskies on Wednesday night in the second round of the Mid-American Conference Basketball Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.
NIU shot just 29.6 percent (8-of-27) in the second half after going 50 percent from the field (10-of-20) in the opening 20 minutes.
Western Michigan by contrast shot just 34.5 percent (10-of-29) before the intermission but responded with a 58.3 percent (14-of-24) shooting performance in the second half to dash the tournament dreams of the Huskies.
Western Michigan (14-19) out-rebounded NIU 39-26, tied for the largest rebounding deficit for the Huskies this season.
Junior guard Tony Nixon (South Holland, Ill./Seton Academy) led NIU with 11 points, his fifth double-figure scoring performance in the last eight games, redshirt sophomore guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) added 10 points off the bench.
Freshman guard Marquavese Ford (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw) chipped in eight points and a team-best six assists.
“It was an incredible first half by us but I thought Western Michigan wore us down in the second half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We needed our perimeter shots to fall and unfortunately they just didn’t go in, but I liked the energy and effort of my guys, especially for the first 25 minutes of the ballgame. You have to give Western Michigan a lot of credit; they have seniors that stepped up.”
NIU jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the early going as freshman forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) opened the scoring with a short corner jumper, freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) hit a jumper from the wing and sophomore forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) connected on a trifecta to give the Huskies the early advantage.
Western Michigan answered with a 7-2 run of its own to even the game, 9-9, with 13:49 to play in the first half. The lead went back-and-forth until a 5-0 burst gave the Broncos a 26-22 advantage with just under four minutes to play before the intermission.
Nixon canned a triple to cut the Western Michigan lead back to just one before the Broncos scored another five-straight, pushing their lead to 31-25.
Just before the halftime buzzer, NIU pulled down a defensive rebound and pushed the ball in transition, finding Nixon open on the wing for a trifecta to cut the Bronco lead to just three at the break, 31-28.
Western Michigan pushed its lead out to five early in the second half before a triple from Christian trimmed the lead back to just a pair with 16:23 to play.
The Broncos responded with their back-breaking 17-1 run, taking a 56-38 lead just before the midway point of the second half.
Nader, a MAC All-Freshman Team honoree, stopped the Western Michigan run with an old-fashioned three-point play, but the damage had been done as the Huskies were unable to overcome the 18-point lead built by the Broncos.
Mike Douglas led Western Michigan with 19 points and seven assists, Demetrius Ward added 13 and Brandon Pokley chipped in 12 for the victorious Broncos.
Northern Illinois closes its first season under Montgomery with a 5-26 overall record.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.