The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team battled back from an eight-point deficit in the final minutes Thursday night but came up just short, falling 66-64 at Central Michigan.
NIU held a two-point halftime lead, but Central Michigan shot 50.0 percent (13-of-26) in the second half, including 62.5 percent (5-of-8) from the three-point arc, to earn the victory.
“It was a great basketball game, I just wish we would have come out on the other end,” said NIU head coach Ricardo Patton. “Give credit to Central Michigan, but I thought out kids battled and gave us a chance, we just came up short.”
The Huskies and Chippewas traded baskets early in the second half until back-to-back buckets by CMU knotted the game, 34-34, with 14:46 to play.
A basket by Silas and a pair of free throws from junior forward Lee Fisher put NIU back up four, 40-36, before Central Michigan responded with an 11-2 run to take a five-point lead, 47-42, with 11:26 remaining.
The Central Michigan lead grew to as much as eight, but NIU responded with an 11-3 run to tie the game, 58-58, with 4:20 left. Fisher ignited the run with a put back dunk and Silas capped the burst with a banker in the lane. Fisher finished with seven points and seven rebounds for the Huskies.
CMU took a three-point advantage with a triple on the next possession, a lead they held with 27 seconds remaining and possession belonging to Northern Illinois. Silas rattled home a baseline jumper with 15 seconds left to cut the lead to one, 65-64.
Central Michigan split a pair of free throws to take a two-point lead and the Chippewas got a defensive stop on the final possession to hang on for the win.
“Basketball is a game of runs, we had one early and then they had one,” Patton said. “We got down but still gave ourselves a chance late in the game to either tie the ballgame or go ahead. They made a nice play on Silas who took the shot and that was the ballgame.”
Trey Zeigler led Central Michigan with a game-high 27 points and nine rebounds, 23 of Zeigler’s 27 points came in the second half. Andre Coimbra added 14 points and William McClure had 10 points for the Chippewas.
The two team had nearly identical shooting percentages in the contest; NIU shot 42.9 percent (24-of-56) from the floor while Central Michigan shot 42.3 percent (22-of-52),
Rucker ignited the NIU offense in the early going, scoring nine of the first 11 for the Huskies as NIU held an 11-10 lead six-and-a-half minutes into the contest.
Northern Illinois took a five-point lead, 19-14, on a layup by Rucker with 8:43 to play in the half, forcing a Central Michigan timeout. The Huskies held CMU scoreless for over four minutes until a free throw for the Chippewas ended the drought and cut the NIU lead to 19-15.
The free throw started a 5-0 spurt for Central Michigan that tied the contest, 19-19, before Silas put the Huskies back in front with a baseline jumper with 4:37 to play in the opening half.
NIU regained a five-point advantage, 25-20, before Central Michigan closed the scoring in the first half with a triple to cut the NIU lead to a pair, 25-23.
Rucker led all scorers with 11 points in the opening 20 minutes; Central Michigan was led by five points from McClure.
NIU will continue its two-game road trip in the State of Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 22, when they Huskies visit Western Michigan. Game time against the Broncos is slated for 1 p.m. CT.
For more information about NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.