Freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) scored a game-high 24 points and pulled down a game-best eight rebounds but it wasn’t enough as the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team dropped a 74-64 decision to Central Michigan at McGuirk Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Freshman forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) added a career-high 13 points.
The Chippewas built a nine-point halftime lead thanks to 52 percent (13-of-25) shooting from the field in the opening 20 minutes. Central Michigan out-rebounded NIU, 40-34, and also went to the free-throw line 12 more times than the Huskies in the contest.
“We came out strong, but following a timeout they really got it going,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “They sped us up, picked up full court, and we just couldn’t get into an offensive rhythm. Credit Central Michigan, the difference, in particular in the first half, was they had some offensive rebounds. We had a dry spell and then we just couldn’t get close enough to put them under pressure.”
Both teams got off to a quick start offensively, each making four of their first five field goal attempts. Nader fueled the Huskies in the early going, scoring eight of the first 12; including an old-fashioned three-point play off a steal to give the Huskies a 12-11 lead with 16:13 to play in the first half.
After a put-back by sophomore guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) gave the Huskies a three-point edge, Central Michigan responded with an 11-0 run to take a 22-14 lead just past the midway point of the first half.
The Central Michigan lead grew to as many as 16, 33-17, until a quick eight-point burst by the Huskies cut the gap in half, 33-25, with 4:41 left before the break. Nader and sophomore forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) started the run with back-to-back triples and freshman guard Stian Berg (Baerum, Norway/Norges Toppidretts Gymnas) added a pair from the charity stripe to cut into the Chippewa advantage.
Central Michigan’s lead grew back to 12 until Christian hit a trifecta at the buzzer to cut the lead to 39-30 heading into the intermission.
Nader led all scorers with 13 in the opening half; Derek Jackson led Central Michigan with 11.
The first 10 minutes of the second half went back-and-fourth, with NIU unable to cut the Chippewa lead under eight.
With the Central Michigan lead at 13, Kevin Gray made a jumper to ignite an 8-2 burst that pulled NIU within seven, 61-54, with just under four minutes left. Nader connected on a triple and Bolin hit a three from the wing to keep the Huskies within striking distance.
Bolin finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
NIU pulled within six, 64-58, on a pair of free throws by Nader, but a pair of free throws by Andre Coimbra for Central Michigan and a triple off an offensive rebound pushed the Central Michigan lead to 69-58 with just 1:19 to play.
Jackson led Central Michigan with 19 points, Trey Zeigler and Austin McBroom each added 14 for the Chippewas.
The Huskies will return home on Wednesday, Feb. 29, when they host Toledo on senior night at the NIU Convocation Center. Tipoff against the Rockets is scheduled for 7 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.