Senior guard Xavier Silas scored 31 points, including a career-high-tying six three-pointers, as the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team survived for a 71-69 victory on Tuesday night at Eastern Michigan. The Huskies led by 13 at the intermission and hung on for two-point victory.
Junior forward Tim Toler added 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds while freshman forward Nate Rucker added 10 points for the Huskies. Senior guard Jeremy Landers had six points, five rebounds and a career-best seven assists.
“I thought our guys really played well early in the game and withstood Eastern Michigan’s early run,” said NIU head coach Ricardo Patton. “You can play with anybody when you make shots. For awhile in the second half we just exchanged baskets and that is the importance of having a lead at the half because we you come out in the second half and your opponent is making shots, as long as you exchanges makes, you won’t lose that lead.”
NIU shot a season-best 61.0 percent (25-of-41) from the field in the contest, including 10-of-15 from beyond the three-point arc. Eastern Michigan shot 38.5 percent (20-of-52) from the floor, but made 14 triples, including 8-of-16 in the second half.
Eastern Michigan took an early 15-6 lead as the Eagles made five three-pointers in the first five minutes of the contest.
Silas ignited a 6-0 run for the Huskies with a triple. Junior forward Lee Fisher added a free throw and junior guard Bryan Hall scored on a layup as NIU cut the Eastern Michigan lead to 15-12 with 11:58 to play in the first half.
Trailing by six with 7:27 remaining in the half, Northern Illinois outscored Eastern Michigan 25-6 to close the half to take a 39-26 lead into the break. Silas connected on four triples during the run and Rucker chipped in four points as NIU went to the intermission with a 13-point advantage.
Silas led all scorers with 19 points in the first half, including 15 from beyond the three-point arc; Brandon Bowdry, Antonio Green and Derek Thompson each had eight to lead Eastern Michigan.
NIU shot 65.3 percent (15-of-23) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, including 6-of-8 from three, while holding Eastern Michigan to just 30.0 percent shooting (9-of-30). The Huskies outscored the Eagles 14-2 in the paint in the opening stanza.
After NIU pushed its advantage to 16, Eastern Michigan made three-straight triples to trim the Northern Illinois to lead 47-40 four minutes into the second half.
An 8-1 Eastern Michigan run pulled the Eagles within four, 58-54, before Toler knocked down a triple from the wing to push the NIU lead back to seven with 8:10 to play in the second half.
The Eagles pulled to within a pair, 62-60, and had chances to either tie or take the lead, but NIU came up with stops and Landers hit a jumper from the elbow with 3:23 to play to push the lead back to four.
With NIU leading by five, 68-63, Thompson cut the advantage to just two with a three-pointer with 18 seconds to play.
Senior guard Michael Patton and Landers combined to make three free throws to put the Huskies up by five, 71-66, before Thompson made another three at the buzzer for the final two-point margin.
Thompson led Eastern Michigan with 31 points, Bowdry added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Eagles.
NIU will be back in action on Saturday, Jan. 15, as the Huskies return to DeKalb to host Toledo at the NIU Convocation Center. The game is scheduled to tipoff at 3:30 p.m., and is part of a doubleheader with the NIU women who will face Western Michigan at 1 p.m.