Trailing by one with three minutes to play, the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team outscored Bowling Green 11-1 down the stretch to earn a 45-36 victory on Sunday afternoon at the Stroh Center.
Sophomore guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) scored a game-high 13 points, including six in the final two minutes of the contest.
With the victory, NIU improves to 7-7 overall, 1-1 in Mid-American Conference play. Bowling Green falls to 6-9 overall, 0-2 in conference play.
Trailing 35-34, senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Akser) knocked down a triple from the wing, pushing the Huskies back in front, 37-35, with three minutes to play. After forcing a Bowling Green turnover, a runner from Baker gave NIU a four-point lead.
A free throw by Bowling Green cut the lead back to three until Baker connected on a triple from the top of the key, beating the shot clock with 1:04 left to give the Huskies a 42-36 lead. NIU held Bowling Green scoreless in the final minute, going on to earn its first win at the Stroh Center, snapping a seven-game overall losing streak to the Falcons in the process.
“It wasn’t pretty but we found a way to win,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Our defense deserves a lot of credit. Any time you hold a team to 29 percent shooting on the road and get to the free-throw line 28 times, even though we only made 13, you are doing something right. We also out-rebounded Bowling Green by 11 (40-29), and everyone knows that we pride ourselves on our defense and rebounding.
“I said in the locker room that we needed a balanced offensive attack and even though we didn’t score many points it was balanced, and a road win in the MAC is never easy to get.”
The Falcons were within three in the early going until NIU used a 5-0 burst to take a 15-7 lead, forcing a Falcons timeout. Sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) finished the run with a layup to give NIU an eight-point lead with 6:06 to play in the half.
Bowie scored six points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) also grabbed eight rebounds.
Out of the timeout, Bowling Green responded with the next four points to pull within four, but a steal and jam by freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) pushed the Huskie advantage back to a half-dozen, 17-11.
A pull-up jumper from sophomore Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and a triple from junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) helped push the NIU lead to nine, 22-13, and the Huskies took their largest lead of the half on a jumper by Baker that gave the Huskies a 25-14 edge with 1:21 left in the half.
A dunk for the Falcons just before the buzzer cut the Huskie lead to eight, 26-18, at the intermission. Baker led NIU with seven points in the opening 20 minutes; Richaun Holmes led all scorers with eight points.
NIU shot 39.1 percent (9-of-23) in the opening stanza but held Bowling Green to just 25 percent (5-of-20) shooting in the opening 20 minutes. Both teams struggled with turnovers in the opening eight minutes of the half, each had eight in the early going, but NIU committed just one the rest of the half and Bowling Green committed just two.
The Falcons scored the first eight points out of the break, including a pair of triples, to even the contest, 26-26. Balls answered with a triple to put the Huskies back up by three but Bowling Green scored the next five to take its first lead of the second half, 31-29.
A free throw by junior Pete Rakocevic (Chicago, Ill./Wilbraham & Monson/Sacramento State) put the Huskies back in front, 34-33, before a jumper from Jehvon Clarke gave Bowling Green the lead with 5:16 left.
Bolin’s trifecta then put the Huskies back in front and ignited the game-closing run.
Holmes scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds and recorded six blocks to lead Bowling Green.
The Huskies will return to action on Wednesday, Jan. 15, when they host their first MAC home game of the season against Kent State. Game time between the Huskies and Golden Flashes is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the NIU Convocation Center.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.