The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team led by three at the half Saturday afternoon.
But the team was unable hold on as they fell to Eastern Michigan, 47-40, in the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams at the NIU Convocation Center.
Senior forward Tim Toler (Indianapolis, Ind./Avon/Danville Area CC) led the Huskies with 11 points.
Freshman guard Zach Miller (Chicago, Ill./Glenbard East) chipped in nine points and a game-high four assists.
“I thought we rebounded well in the first half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We got down 11 and we fought back to take the lead with about 1:30 to go (in the first half). I thought we had better offensive flow in the first half. In the second half we just couldn’t get a basket to go. It was one of those games that comes down to the last couple of possessions. With two minutes to go it was a one-point game, we had our chances; we just didn’t make enough shots.”
Eastern Michigan jumped out to a 17-6 lead early in the contest before a 14-2 run put the Huskies on top, 20-19.
Junior guard Tony Nixon (South Holland, Ill./Seton Academy) converted on a drive to the basket to ignite the run. Freshman guard Marquavese Ford (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw) added a jumper from the elbow, Miller drained a trifecta and freshman forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) and Toler each added a basket and converted from the charity stripe to give NIU its first lead of the afternoon.
A pair of free throws by the Eagles ended a six-and-a-half minutes scoreless stretch for EMU, giving the Eagles a 21-20 lead with 4:46 left in the half.
Ford just beat the shot clock buzzer with a three-pointer as NIU regained the lead, 23-21, before Eastern Michigan sandwiched a pair of free throws around a Miller triple as the Huskies took a 26-23 lead into the intermission.
NIU ended the half on a 20-4 run and did not allow a field goal in the final 11:20 of the opening stanza.
Toler led all scorers with eight points in the first half; Darrell Lampley led Eastern Michigan with seven. The Huskies shot 47.6 percent (10-of-21) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes while the Eagles shot 42.1 percent (8-of-19) from the field.
The Eagles opened the second half with an 11-3 burst, taking a 34-29 lead with 14:51 left.
Nixon stopped the run with a triple for the Huskies and freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) swung the lead back to NIU with a three, 35-34, with 13:22 remaining.
Eastern Michigan scored six-straight to take a four-point lead until a three-pointer from the top of the key by Miller cut the Eagle lead to just one, 39-38, with 6:30 to play.
After the two teams traded a pair of free throws, Eastern Michigan made four more from the line to lead 45-40 with 38 seconds remaining. NIU had a chance to cut into the lead, but the Huskies came up empty and the Eagles made two more free throws to create the final seven-point margin.
Northern Illinois held Eastern Michigan to just 36.1 percent (13-of-36) shooting in the contest but shot just 29.2 percent (14-of-48) on the other end of the floor. The Eagles went 19-of-24 from the charity stripe in the contest while the Huskies were just 5-of-7.
Lampley finished with a game-high 16 points for Eastern Michigan.
Northern Illinois will return to the road for the first time since Dec. 10, 2011, when it travels to Western Michigan on Wednesday, Jan. 11, for their first MAC road game of the season. The Huskies and Broncos will tipoff at 6 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.