After trailing by as much as 11 in the second half, Northern Illinois battled back to force overtime before falling, 80-73, to UW Milwaukee on Friday night at the Klotsche Center.
Freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township) scored a career-best 21 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
Northern Illinois held UW Milwaukee to just 28.6 percent (6-of-21) shooting in the second half but the Panthers went 29-of-40 from the free-throw line in the contest while the Huskies shot just 16 free throws, converting on 10 trips to the charity stripe.
“Credit our guys for fighting and clawing because it isn’t easy on the road,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We had three players in double figures, we only had 12 turnovers and you just want to win one of these on the road when the kids play so hard.
“The ball bounces funny ways sometimes and that is unfortunate. We shoot 45 percent in the second half, they only shoot 28 percent, but it wasn’t enough. We have a young team and this is going to keep them hungry, keep them practicing hard, we are only going to get better as the season goes on and you got a glimpse of that tonight.”
A dunk by Demetrius Harris with 14:38 to play in regulation put the Panthers up 10, 49-39, but the Huskies responded with a 16-4 run gave the Huskies a 55-53 lead just before the midway point of the second half. A pair of triples from Springs got the run started for NIU, freshman wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) added a put-back and Nader then scored eight, including a pair of trifectas, to give NIU a two-point lead.
A bucket by junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) gave NIU a four-point lead with 7:16 to play. UW Milwaukee answered with a 7-0 run, all seven points coming from the free-throw line, to take a 65-62 lead with three minutes to play.
NIU held UW Milwaukee without a field goal in the final 8:25 of regulation.
After the teams traded free throws, a Nader steal led to a layup by Springs to pull the Huskies within one with under a minute to play. James Haarsma split a pair of free throws for UW Milwaukee and the Huskies had the ball, down two, with less than 30 seconds left in regulation.
NIU missed a baseline jumper but Bolin was there for the rebound and put-back to tie the game with 16 seconds left. The Panthers called a timeout to setup a final shot but good defense by NIU led to a desperation 3-point attempt that never had a chance of going in.
UW Milwaukee started the overtime on a 7-1 run to lead by six midway through the extra session. With 1:31 to play, freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) scored to cut the lead to four. A pair of free throws by Springs trimmed the gap to two with just over a minute left and, following a steal by Springs, the Huskies had a look at a triple to take the lead. The shot rimmed out and the Panthers made 5-of-6 free throws to escape with the victory.
Paris Gulley scored 21 points to lead UW Milwaukee. Kyle Kelm added 15 while Haarsma and Jordan Aaron each chipped in 14 points for the Panthers.
Trailing by four in the early going, NIU used an eight-point burst to take a four point lead, 14-10, with 13:40 to play in the first half. Nader started the run with a free throw, Springs added a triple before sophomore forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) had a layup and freshman guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) hit a pull-up 18-footer.
A 13-4 run by UW Milwaukee gave the Panthers a 23-18 lead. Baskets by Balls and Kevin Gray again pulled the Huskies back within one, 23-22, with 5:37 to play in the opening stanza.
UW Milwaukee responded with a 14-4 run to take an 11-point lead, its largest of the half. Springs hit a floater to cut the gap to nine, 37-28, at the intermission.
Gulley led all scorers with 15 points in the first half, all 15 coming on 3-pointers. Springs led NIU with seven points in the opening 20 minutes. Foul trouble forced the Huskies to play a significant amount of zone in the first half and UW Milwaukee took advantage, going 8-of-19 (42.1 percent) from behind the arc.
The overtime contest was the first for NIU during Montgomery’s tenure as head coach and the first since Feb. 26, 2011, at Toledo.
Following a break for finals, the Huskies will return to action on Sunday, Dec. 16, when they travel to the Allstate Arena to meet DePaul. Game time against the Blue Demons is scheduled for 4 p.m.