Trailing by 14 at the half, the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team outscored Loyola-Chicago, 41-21, in the second half to earn a 55-49 victory Wednesday night at Gentile Arena.
Sophomore guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) scored a team-high 14 points and junior guard Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) scored all 12 of his points in the second half in NIU’s comeback victory.
“It was a game of two halves,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “It seemed like we were sleep-walking in the first half, but credit Loyola, they did what they wanted to do, got the ball inside and had the momentum. In the second half, I thought our guys came out with a lot of fire, Aaron Armstead came off the bench and sparked us.
“When you are down 14, you have to get stops on top of baskets and I definitely thought we found our rhythm in the second half and the momentum shifted. I think our changing defense bothered them, we played some man, some 2-3 (zone), some 1-3-1 (zone), and they were struggling to hit outside shots.”
Sophomore wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) had 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds and freshman guard Dontel Highsmith (Dowagiac, Mich./Dowagiac) had his second consecutive game in double figures with 10 points.
NIU (4-5) shot 52.2 percent (12-of-23) in the second half after shooting just 23.1 percent (6-of-26) in the opening 20 minutes. The Huskies held Loyola to an identical 23.1 percent (6-of-26) shooting in the second half.
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Huskies against Loyola and was NIU’s first victory at Loyola since 1995, ending a five-game road losing streak in the series.
After Loyola (5-6) made a free throw to open the scoring in the second half, giving the Ramblers a 29-14 lead, NIU scored the next six, including a triple from Baker, to cut the lead to 29-20 and force a timeout with 16:42 to play.
Armstead then heated up for the Huskies, scoring nine-straight for NIU, including a pair of triples, as the Huskies cut the Loyola lead to a half-dozen, 35-29, with just over 12 minutes to play.
The Ramblers split a pair of free throws to push their lead to seven before Armstead connected on another trifecta to bring NIU within four, 36-32.
A bucket by Loyola pushed the lead back to a half-dozen but a 7-0 run, capped by an old-fashioned three-point play by Highsmith, gave the Huskies their first lead of the second half, 39-38, with 6:54 left.
Loyola regained the lead, 44-43; with 2:20 to play but a three-point play by Bowie gave the lead back to NIU on the next possession. The Huskie defense then came up with a stop and Baker buried a triple from the top of the key late in the shot clock to put the Huskies up 49-44 with 1:09 left.
The Huskies iced the game at the free-throw line, going 6-of-6 in the final minute, with Baker making four and Bowie connecting on a pair.
NIU and Loyola traded baskets in the early going until a 7-0 burst pulled Loyola out to a 17-9 lead just past the midway point of the opening half. Bowie ended the run for the Ramblers with a layup off an offensive rebound to bring the Huskies back within six, 17-11, with 9:31 to play in the first half.
Loyola answered the Bowie basket with the next six points as the Ramblers took a 23-11 lead 5:46 left in the half and the Ramblers took a 28-14 lead into the intermission.
The Huskies will return to action Sunday, Dec. 22, when they travel west to Riverside, Calif., to take on UC Riverside. Game time against the Highlanders is 4 p.m. CT.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.