Trailing by 12 at halftime, the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team fought back saw its second half rally come up just short, falling 59-57 to UW-Milwaukee on Monday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
Senior forward Tim Toler (Indianapolis, Ind./Avon/Danville Area CC) led the Huskies with 11 points and sophomore guard Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) scored nine points and grabbed a career-best nine rebounds.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We couldn’t get the ball to fall in the first half and we turned it over. In the second half, our guys had a no quit attitude, they came back and battled. We shot the ball very well at the free throw line. We didn’t give up and I thought that we defended a lot better in the second half.”
NIU held UW-Milwaukee to just 25.8 percent (8-of-31) shooting in the second half. The Huskies outscored the Panthers 25-4 off the bench, including nine from freshman guard Zach Miller (Chicago, Ill./Glenbard East); 10 different Huskies scored in the contest.
Both teams started slowly offensively, each going 2-of-7 from the floor to open the contest. Leading by a pair, Milwaukee used an 11-4 run to take a 17-8 lead just past the midway point of the opening half.
Toler converted an old-fashioned three-point play to cut the gap to six, but the Panthers scored the next five to push the lead to double figures, 22-11, with 6:25 to play before the half.
UW-Milwaukee extended its lead to 14, its largest lead of the half, with nine seconds left in the half before Miller hit a floater as time expired to cut the Panther lead to 35-23 at the intermission.
Ja’Rob McCallum led all scorers with 12 points in the opening half; Toler had seven points to pace the Huskies. UW-Milwaukee shot 50 percent (12-of-24) in the opening 20 minutes while NIU went 10-of-27 (37 percent) from the field in the first half.
Trailing by 11 early in the second half, freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) converted a three-point play and freshman guard Stian Berg (Baerum, Norway/Norgest Toppidretts Gymnas) made a layup on the break to pull NIU within a half-dozen, 37-31, with 16:13 left in the second half.
Following a timeout, freshman forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) knocked down a 15-footer and freshman forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) put home a layup to pull the Huskies within a pair, 37-35.
A pair of free throws from Bolin brought the Huskies within one, 39-38, and a baseline jumper from Toler gave NIU the lead with just over 11 minutes remaining.
The lead swung back-and-forth until the Panthers, leading by one, used a five-point burst to take a 51-45 lead with just under four minutes to play.
NIU got back within three on four different occasions but was unable to get any closer until Miller nailed a triple with five seconds left.
After a Huskie foul, Paris Gully split a pair of free throws for Milwaukee and sophomore guard Antone Christian‘s (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) desperation heave came up short as the Panthers escaped with a two-point win.
James Haarsma led the Panthers with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
NIU will return to action on Thursday, Nov. 17, as the Huskies travel to Iowa. Game time between the Huskies and Hawkeyes is scheduled for 7 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.