The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team returned home for the first time in 11 days Wednesday night to post an 83-74 win over Akron at the NIU Convocation Center.
Senior guard Xavier Silas torched the Zips for a game-high 39 points, going 9-for-17 from the field, 5-for-9 from behind the arc and 16-for-20 from the charity stripe.
Redshirt freshman guard Antone Christian added 13 points and freshman forward Nate Rucker also chipped in 13 for the Huskies in the victory.
The win evens the Huskies’ Mid-American Conference record to 3-3, 7-11 overall, while Akron falls to 2-4 in league play and 11-9 overall.
“I am really excited for our guys, they have worked extremely hard and this is a win that, I think, will go a long way showing them that hard work pays off,” said NIU head coach Ricardo Patton. “If we stay at the task it will pay off in the long run.”
The Huskies went 29-of-40 (72.5 percent) from the free-throw line in the contest, while Akron was just 6-of-12 (50.0 percent) from the line. NIU also committed a season-low six turnovers in the contest.
Junior forward Tim Toler grabbed a season-best 12 rebounds as the Huskies beat the Zips on the glass, 43-34.
Rucker fueled the NIU offense in the early going, scoring the first six points for the Huskies as NIU took a 6-2 advantage in the early going.
After Akron took a 12-11 lead, NIU went on an 11-2 run to open up an eight-point advantage, 22-14, with 10:43 to play in the first half. Silas ignited the run with a triple and scored seven points during the burst for the Huskies.
Northern Illinois continued to connect from beyond the three-point line as Christian drained a triple and Silas connected on two more to help NIU increase its advantage to 35-22, its largest lead of the first half, with 6:23 remaining.
Following the NIU run, the Zips scored eight-straight to cut the Northern Illinois lead to just five, 35-30.
NIU pushed its lead back to nine before Akron scored the final bucket of the half as Northern Illinois took a 39-32 lead into the intermission.
Silas led all scorers with 18 points at the break; Nikola Cvetinovic had 10 points to lead Akron at the half. NIU shot 48.4 percent (15-of-31) in the opening 20 minutes while Akron shot 44.8 percent (13-of-29).
Akron made a triple on the opening possession of the second stanza, but NIU responded with a 17-2 run to push its lead to 56-37 with 14:20 to play in the second half. Silas started the run for the Huskies with a three-pointer, he added four free throws during the stretch and senior guard Jeremy Landers also scored four from the charity stripe as the NIU lead reached 19 points.
The Zips came right back however, using a 14-2 run to cut the Huskies lead to just seven, 58-51, with 11:13 remaining.
NIU’s advantage ballooned back to 15, but again Akron answered, trimming the lead back to seven, 74-67, with 2:31 to play.
Northern Illinois made seven free throws in the final two-and-a-half minutes as Akron was unable to get any closer than seven in the closing moments. The Huskies made 25-of-36 free throws in the second half while Akron went 5-of-8 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes.
Cvetinovic scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Akron. Brett McClanahan added 15 points for the Zips.
Northern Illinois will play its first road game against the MAC East Division when the Huskies travel Saturday, Jan. 29, to Buffalo. Game time at Buffalo is scheduled for 11 a.m.
For more information about NIU men’s basketball or Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.