The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team fell, 63-52, to Buffalo on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena. Buffalo held a three-point halftime lead and used a 12-0 second half run to pull away from the Huskies. Senior guard Xavier Silas led NIU with 20 points.
Freshman forward Nate Rucker scored 11 points and grabbed a team-best six rebounds. Buffalo (13-6, 5-2 MAC) shot 47.6 percent (10-of-21) in the second half and forced NIU into 17 turnovers in the contest.
“It was a tough game but I thought our team battled all the way,” said NIU head coach Ricardo Patton. “We turned the ball over too many times and we lost track of (Zach Flitzen) too often. We just picked a bad day to have a bad day.”
NIU shot just 16.7 percent (2-of-12) in the contest from behind the three-point line.
Buffalo took an early 10-4 lead as the Bulls made a pair of triples in the early going. Rucker made both of the first two baskets for the Huskies as NIU (7-12, 3-4 MAC) try to pound the ball into the ball to open the contest.
Junior forward Tim Toler knocked down a triple from the wing to bring NIU within a point, 10-9, before Buffalo scored five-straight to push its lead to six with 12:17 to play in the first half. The triple by Toler was his only field goal of the contest.
Both teams were held scoreless for the next three minutes until Silas netted a pair of free throws. Junior forward Lee Fisher then scored on a tip-in but Buffalo responded with an 8-0 to increase its lead to 23-13 with 5:26 left before halftime.
NIU scored the final six points of the first half, capped by a triple from senior guard Michael Patton, to pull within three at the intermission, 27-24.
Buffalo’s Zach Filzen led all scorers in the opening 20 minutes with 10 points; Silas scored seven to lead NIU in the opening stanza. Both teams struggled offensively in the first half; the Huskies shot just 36.8 percent (7-of-19) while Buffalo was 35.7 percent (10-of-28). Northern Illinois committed 12 turnovers in the opening stanza.
Silas scored the first seven out of the intermission for the Huskies, but NIU was unable to cut into the Buffalo advantage in the first four minutes of the half.
Leading by five, Buffalo used a 7-0 burst to take a 49-37 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the second half, forcing a Northern Illinois timeout.
The Bulls run reached 12-0 as Buffalo led 54-37 until Rucker ended the burst with a layup. The basket ended a drought of nearly four minutes for NIU.
Northern Illinois responded with a 10-1 run, six coming from Rucker, to cut the lead back to eight, 55-47, with 4:18 to play, but that was as close as NIU would come as Buffalo held on for the victory.
Filzen scored a game-high 21 points, including five three-pointers, to lead Buffalo. Bryan Mulkey added 19 points for the Bulls.
Northern Illinois will return to action on Wednesday, Feb. 2, when the Huskies entertain Bowling Green at the NIU Convocation Center. Tipoff against the Falcons is scheduled for 7 p.m.
by Jeremy Reid