Behind 55 percent shooting from the field, including 63.2 percent behind the three-point arc, the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team defeated Central Michigan, 74-66, on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center. Freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) led the Huskies with a career-high 22 points, including 5-of-5 from behind the arc.
Freshman guard Stian Berg (Baerum, Norway/Norges Toppidretts Gymnas) also had a career-high with 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting from three-point range. Sophomore guard Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) added a season-best 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
“We took a defensive mindset in this game,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery.
“Thank goodness for Abdel, coming out with his guns loaded. He got us started and that became contagious, Stian picked it up. I thought our defensive was amazing. When the ball goes in your defense picks up but we held them to 37 percent and we outrebounded them by 17, so there was a lot of good basketball today.”
The Huskies outrebounded the Chippewas 39-22 in the contest, marking the seventh-straight game NIU has beaten its opponent on the glass, and converted 11 offensive rebounds into 17 second chance points, to just five second chance points for CMU. NIU’s 74 points and 12 three-point field goals made are both season-highs
“Congratulations to Coach Montgomery and his staff,” said CMU head Coach Ernie Zeigler. “Their last couple of games, you could see how close them were. They are a young group; you could tell they are coachable and trying to do what their coaches are asking. Coach Montgomery is doing a heckuva job. Nader had a career game. You’ve got to give them credit, they knocked down shots.”
Nader fueled the Huskie offense in the early going, scoring the first 13 NIU points, including four triples.
The fourth of Nader’s trifectas sparked a 10-0 run as redshirt sophomore Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) and Berg added threes while Bolin made a free throw as the Huskies took a 20-12 lead with just under 12 minutes to play in the first half.
With NIU leading by seven, 26-19, Central Michigan buried back-to-back triples to cut the Huskie lead to just one, 26-25, with six minutes left before the break.
Northern Illinois answered with the next 15 points, taking a 41-25 lead into the final minute of the half. Berg connected on a pair of threes and Nader registered his fifth triple of the half during the run. CMU made a pair of free throws to trim the Huskie lead to 41-27 at the intermission.
Nader led all scorers with 16 at the break, helping the Huskies to 58.3 percent shooting (14-of-24) in the opening 20 minutes, including 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) beyond the arc. Derek Jackson led the Chippewas with 10 points in the opening stanza.
NIU maintained a lead of a dozen or more early in the second half until Austin McBroom made a three to cut the Huskie lead to 51-40 with 14:13 to play, but buckets by Nader and Bolin pushed the NIU advantage right back to 15.
Still leading by 15 with under three minutes to play, McBroom six-straight to cut the NIU lead to single-digits, 64-55, for the first time in the second half.
The Chippewas would trim the Huskie lead to as few as six in the final minutes, 70-64, but NIU made 9-of-10 free throws in the final minute of the contest, seven by Bolin, to secure the win.
Trey Zeigler finished with a team-high 18 points for Central Michigan, who suffered its first conference loss of the season, Jackson added 16 points and McBroom finished with 15 for CMU.
NIU will return to the road Wednesday, Jan. 18, when the Huskies travel to Toledo to play the Rockets. Game time is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT. For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.