Northern Illinois led by eight with four minutes to play before Western Michigan scored the final 16 points of the game to take a 66-58 win on Saturday evening at University Arena. Junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) scored a team-high 10 points to lead the Huskies.
Northern Illinois (5-19, 3-9 MAC) built a five-point halftime lead behind 54.2 percent (13-of-24) shooting in the first half.
The Huskies shot just 20 percent (4-of-20) in the second half but used 75 percent (12-of-16) shooting from the free-throw line in the second half to hold off Western Michigan for 16 minutes until the late Bronco run propelled them to victory.
Freshman guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) dished out a game-high five assists with just one turnover.
“I don’t know if we let it slip or Western (Michigan) just found a way to take the game at the end,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “I thought that our young team probably got rattled a little bit at the end and Western made some plays … They made the plays in the end but, to tell you the truth, I thought we outplayed them for 38 minutes.”
Western Michigan (16-9, 8-4 MAC) jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead before NIU scored the next six to take its first lead of the contest, 8-7. Sophomore forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) started the burst with a jumper; freshman wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) added a layup and freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) went coast-to-coast off a steal to give the Huskies their first lead with 15:40 to play in the first half.
Davis finished with seven points and a career-best five rebounds.
The Huskie run reached 10-0 on free throws from Davis and freshman forward Sam Mader (Appleton, Wis./Appleton East), giving NIU a 12-7 lead with 13:24 left in the opening half.
The Broncos cut the NIU lead back to just a pair, 14-12, before a 9-3 spurt pushed the Huskie lead to eight, 23-15. Kevin Gray and Bolin opened the run with baskets, Bolin added a triple from the top of the key and Davis finished the run with two from the charity stripe to give the Huskies an eight-point lead with just under nine minutes to play before the intermission.
Western Michigan pulled back within a pair, 26-24, until back-to-back triples from freshman guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and Bolin, followed by a layup from Bowie, pushed the NIU lead back to 10, 34-24.
The NIU lead was trimmed to five at the half, a 3-point play by Shayne Whittington with eight seconds left before the intermission cutting the deficit down from eight.
After chipping away at the NIU lead, Western Michigan evened the game for the first time in the half, 44-44, with 12:24 to play. Sophomore wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) edged the Huskies back in front with a pair of free throws. Western Michigan tied the game again, 46-46, before the Huskies ran out to an eight-point lead.
Leading by four, 52-48, redshirt junior guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) buried a triple to give NIU a seven-point edge. Christian made a free throw 20 seconds later to push the lead to eight.
A layup brought Western Michigan within a half-dozen with 3:38 to play and a minute later the lead was trimmed to just three on an off-balance, shot clock-beating triple by David Brown. Brown then came up with a steal and a layup to cut the NIU lead to just one with two minutes left. Austin Richie then connected on a triple to give Western Michigan its first lead of the half, 60-58, with 1:29 left and the Broncos never looked back.
Whittington led all scorers with 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Connor Tava added 12 points; Richie had 11 and Brown chipped in 10 for the Broncos.
NIU will return to action Saturday, Feb. 23, when they host Eastern Illinois at 3 p.m., as part of the 2013 Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters. Next Saturday is also Alumni Day at NIU, with the annual alumni game scheduled for 12:30 p.m.