Freshman forward Sam Mader (Appleton, Wis./Appleton East) and freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township) each scored 16 points Sunday as Northern Illinois earned a 72-54 victory over Judson University at the NIU Convocation Center.
Northern Illinois (1-2) shot 50 percent (30-of-60) from the field and out-rebounded Judson, 38-19, but the Eagles hung around in the contest by making 12 3-point field goals.
Sophomore forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) added 10 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Junior forward Aksel Bolin (Akser, Norway/Asker) tied a career-high with four assists; Bolin also added eight points and seven rebounds. Freshman guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) had four steals, Baker has 11 total steals in three games.
“You have to give Judson a lot of credit, they came out and made shots,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We didn’t always do a good job of contesting but you still have to make them and they made them in the first half, jumping out on us by (eight). We put a pretty good run together but they battled back as well.
“The good I take is that we only turned the ball over nine times and we out-rebounded them by 18, that’s the positives. The negatives are that we didn’t come out punching at the beginning of the game. It doesn’t matter who you play, you have to respect your opponent and perform when the ball in thrown in the air.”
Judson (2-7) jumped out to an early 17-10 lead midway through the first half. The Eagles connected on five 3-pointers to take the early seven-point advantage.
NIU responded with a 17-3 run to take a 27-20 lead with just under six minutes to play in the half. Kevin Gray sparked the run with eight of the 17 points.
The Huskie lead grew to double figures, 39-28, with two minutes remaining in the half on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Mader. Judson scored the final four points of the opening stanza to cut the NIU advantage to seven, 39-32, at the intermission.
Mader led NIU with 11 points in the opening 20 minutes; Kevin Gray added eight and five rebounds as the Huskies shot 51.5 percent (17-of-33) in the first half. Luke Labedzki paced Judson with nine points on a trio of 3-pointers in the first half.
A pair of free throws by Bolin gave the Huskies a 12-point lead just two minutes into the second half. Three-straight triples by Judson then pulled the Eagles back within three, 44-41, with 15:31 to play.
Mader and freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) answered with back-to-back baskets to push the NIU lead back to seven.
An old-fashioned three-point play by Frankie Cleope brought Judson within three, 55-52, with 8:40 remaining.
NIU responded with a 17-2 run to close the game. Kevin Gray started the run with a layup, freshman wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) added a jumper and Davis had a layup before Judson hit a free throw to slow the Huskie burst. Springs scored six points in the final four minutes of the contest as the Huskies earned their first win of the season.
Labedzki and Luke Pierson led Judson with nine points each; seven different players for the Eagles made a 3-point field goal in the contest.
Northern Illinois will return to action on Saturday, Nov. 24, when the Huskies host the Loyola Ramblers in the second game of their three-game home stand. Game time against Loyola is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the NIU Convocation Center.