Freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) scored a career-high 26 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team saw its second half rally come up short, 75-65, against Ball State on Saturday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
Trailing by as much as 15, the Huskies trimmed the Cardinal lead to just five but were unable to get any closer.
“We were resilient all night,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “They had us down by 15 and we almost had it under five … Abdel Nader had a big night, Aksel (Bolin) got us going in the first half. I thought our guys fought hard, played hard, but you have to give Ball State credit. Their seniors stepped up and they made a lot of tough shots.”
NIU shot 43.4 percent (23-of-53) for the contest, including 40 percent (8-of-20) from three. Sophomore guard Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) came close to a double-double with eight points and eight rebounds.
Leading by nine at halftime, 37-28, Ball State pushed its lead to a dozen, 42-30, early in the second half before a basket and a pair of free throws by junior guard Tony Nixon (South Holland, Ill./Seton Academy) cut the Cardinal advantage back to eight, 43-34, with 16:10 to play.
Ball State pushed its lead to 15, 50-35, with 11:40 left before NIU used a 10-0 run to pull within five. Freshman forward Keith and Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) each added a bucket, freshman guard Stian Berg (Baerum, Norway/Norges Toppidretts Gymnas) knocked down a triple and Nader added a spectacular up-and-under layup during the run, cutting to Ball State lead to 50-45 with eight minutes to play.
The layup by Nader sparked the Skokie, Ill., native, as he scored 13-straight for the Huskies, including three-straight triples, but the Cardinals matched Nader shot-for-shot.
A put-back dunk by Nixon cut the Ball State lead to seven, 65-58, with 2:15 to play, but that was as close as the Huskies would come as they were unable to get stops down the stretch.
Jarrod Jones led Ball State with 17 points and eight rebounds. Chris Bond added 14 points and Jesse Berry chipped in 12 for the Cardinals who shot 54 percent (27-of-50) from the field in the contest.
Neither team led by more than three early in the contest until a five-point burst by Nader gave NIU a 21-16 lead with 7:39 to play before the intermission.
The Huskie lead was still five, 26-21, until Ball State ended the first half on a 16-2 run, taking a 37-28 lead into the intermission.
Nader and Bolin led the Huskies with eight points in the opening half; Randy Davis led all scorers with nine in the opening 20 minutes for the Cardinals. Ball State shot 48.1 percent (13-of-27) in the first half to 40 percent (10-of-25) for NIU. The Huskies reached the free throw line 10 times in the opening half, converting just five of those chances, the Cardinals were 7-of-8 from the charity stripe in the first half.
Northern Illinois will begin its swing through the MAC East Division on Wednesday, Jan. 25, when the Huskies visit Kent State. Game time between the Huskies and Golden Flashes is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.