The NIU men’s basketball team trailed by just one with two minutes to play but was unable to get over the hump, falling 62-55 at UIC on Saturday afternoon.
Redshirt sophomore guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) and freshman forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) each scored a season-high 11 points to lead the Huskies.
“I told my guys we played 39 minutes,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery.
“Anytime, with two or three minutes to go, you have a chance to tie it at the (free-throw) line you have to be happy, especially on the road … The game of basketball is funny, a bounce here or a bounce there and we would have been in the winner’s circle. I liked how our guys competed today.”
Tied at nine apiece, freshman guard Zach Miller (Chicago, Ill./Glenbard East) and junior guard Tony Nixon (South Holland, Ill./Seton Academy) connected on back-to-back triples as NIU took a 15-9 lead with 12:16 remaining in the first half. The Huskie lead grew to 10 on a basket by freshman guard Marquavese Ford (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw) and a pair of free throws by Keith Gray.
A quick 7-0 run by UIC cut the NIU lead to just three, 19-16, with 9:20 to play before the half.
A jumper by senior forward Tim Toler (Indianapolis, Ind./Avon/Danville Area CC) stopped the Flames run and put the Huskies back up by five. The lead remained at five until a triple by Jerome Brown sparked a 5-0 burst for UIC, tying the game, 25-25, with just over two minutes to play.
Keith Gray closed the scoring in the first half with a pair of free throws, giving NIU a 27-25 lead at the intermission.
Daniel Barnes led all scorers with nine points for UIC; Keith Gray led NIU with five, all coming from the charity stripe. The Huskies turned the ball over just three times in the opening 20 minutes. UIC went 4-of-9 (44.4 percent) from beyond the arc while holding NIU to just 2-of-10 (20 percent) shooting from three.
A pair of layups by Ford pushed the NIU lead to 31-25 early in the second half until a 7-0 UIC run gave the Flames a 32-31 lead with just under 16 minutes to play.
From there, neither team was able to take a lead larger than two until a bucket by UIC with 10:09 left gave the Flames a four-point lead, 42-38.
An answer by Kevin Gray cut the lead back to a pair before another 7-0 UIC run gave the Flames a 49-40 advantage with seven minutes left. But NIU responded with a 9-1 run, cutting the Flame lead to just a point, 50-49, with two minutes to play.
UIC came back with a pair of baskets from Paris Carter to lead 54-49 with 1:17 left and then went 8-of-8 from the free-throw line in the final minute to seal the win.
Brown scored a game-high 15 points to lead UIC.
NIU will return to action on Wednesday, Dec. 14, when the Huskies host DePaul at the NIU Convocation Center at 8 p.m. The contest is part of a doubleheader with the NIU women’s team hosting UIC at 5:30 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.