Tied with just under eight minutes to play Sunday afternoon, Eastern Illinois used a 20-8 run to close the game to defeat the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team, 67-55, at the NIU Convocation Center.
Freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) scored 11 points to lead the Huskies.
“It was a tough game, it came down to the last five minutes,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “I thought our guys played for 30-some minutes and it came down to five or six minutes to go, they made a big run and we couldn’t respond. I’m proud of my guys, we held them to 30 percent (shooting) in the second half, we just didn’t make enough plays.”
NIU (0-4) held Eastern Illinois to 30.4 percent (7-of-23) shooting in the second half, but the Huskies shot just 27.6 percent (8-of-29) themselves in the second stanza. Eastern Illinois (2-1) got to the free-throw line 23 times in the second half, converting 19 of those chances, while NIU went just 5-of-6 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes.
An early 8-0 run gave Eastern Illinois a 10-2 lead just 2:45 into the contest. The Panther lead reached 10, 16-6, until a putback by senior forward Tyler Storm (Geneseo, Ill./Geneseo) started a 7-0 burst for the Huskies.
Nader made a layup on the break and redshirt sophomore Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) connected on a triple from the wing to trim the Eastern Illinois lead to just three, 16-13, midway through the first half.
The Panther lead grew back to four until a basket by freshman guard Marquavese Ford (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw) and a trifecta from Nader put the Huskies ahead, 19-18, with just under eight minutes to play in the first half.
Five-straight points put Eastern Illinois back in front, 23-19. The Panthers pushed their lead back to as much as six, 33-27; before baskets by freshman forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) and senior forward Tim Toler (Indianapolis, Ind./Avon/Danville Area CC) helped the Huskies trim the lead back to a pair at the break, 33-31.
Ford led the Huskies with seven points in the opening 20 minutes; Alfonzo McKinnie led all scorers with nine for the Panthers. The two teams had nearly identical shooting percentages in the first half, NIU shooting 44.0 percent (11-of-25) and Eastern Illinois shooting 43.3 percent (13-of-30).
Eastern Illinois scored the first six points to start the second half, taking a 39-31 lead until a triple by Christian brought the Huskies back within five.
After the teams traded baskets, Storm hit a three and Toler made a pair of free throws to tie the game, 41-41, with just under 13 minutes left in the second half.
Storm finished with a season-high 10 points and Toler finished with nine points and five rebounds.
Still tied with under seven minutes left, Eastern Illinois scored seven-straight to lead 54-47. Nader made a free throw to end the Panthers run, but Eastern Illinois answered with seven more to push their lead to 61-48 with just under three minutes to play.
Northern Illinois made just three field goals in the final eight minutes of the contest.
NIU will return to the road next weekend as it goes west for a pair of games. The Huskies will begin the trip Saturday, Nov. 26, at Boise State before going Monday, Nov. 28, to Utah Valley. Both games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.