Ball State erased an eight-point halftime deficit, defeating the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team, 62-51, on Saturday afternoon at Worthen Arena in the regular season finale for both team.
Freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) paced the Huskies with 16 points and a team-best six rebounds.
The MAC Freshman of the Year candidate also went 4-of-5 from behind the three-point line while also dishing out three assists in the contest.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “I thought we played unbelievable for 25 minutes. Then you have to give Ball State credit, they started making some plays. I thought Jesse Berry was instant offense (for Ball State). Credit them, they got to the free-throw line early in the second half and I thought that was a big different in the ball game.”
The Cardinals went to the free-throw line 15 times to just six free throw attempts for the Huskies. NIU was whistled for 24 fouls while Ball State committed just 11.
Ball State scored the first two points of the contest before NIU used an 11-2 run to take an early nine-point lead. Junior guard Tony Nixon (South Holland, Ill./Seton Academy) started the run with a triple, sophomore forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) added a trifecta and, following a fast break layup by freshman guard Marquavese Ford (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw), Nader connected on a triple from the corner, forcing a Ball State timeout with 15:50 to play in the first half.
Still trailing by 11, Ball State used a 5-0 burst to trim the NIU lead to six, 15-9, with just over 12 minutes to play in the half.
Ball State pulled within three, 22-19, before a triple by freshman guard Stian Berg (Baerum, Norway/Norges Toppidretts Gymnas) from the top of the key pushed the NIU advantage back to six. The Cardinals responded on the next possession with another triple, cutting the Huskie lead to 25-22, with 3:45 to play.
The NIU lead remained at three until a pull-up jumper by Nader, followed by a triple from Nader, gave the Huskies a 32-24 lead that they would take into the intermission.
Nader led all scorers with 10 points in the opening 20 minutes; Jauwan Scaife paced the Cardinals with nine points in the first half. NIU shot 48.1 percent (13-of-27) in the first half, including 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) from behind the three-point arc. The Huskies held Ball State to 36 percent (9-of-25) shooting in the opening half. NIU trailed just once in the first half, at 2-0.
Nader opened the second stanza with a triple as the Huskies pushed their lead to a dozen, 39-27, with a 7-3 spurt to open the half.
Ball State responded with the next 14 points, taking a 41-39 lead just before the midway point of the half.
A triple by redshirt sophomore guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) and a layup on the break by Ford gave the lead back to NIU, 44-41, but Ball State answered with a 17-3 run, including four-straight threes from Jeese Berry, to take a 59-47 lead.
Ball State held NIU to just 27.8 percent (5-of-18) shooting in the second half while the Cardinals shot 42.9 percent (12-of-28) in the second 20 minutes.
Berry led the Cardinals with 19 points, Scaife and Jarrod Jones each added 11 for Ball State.
Northern Illinois will open the 2012 Mid-American Conference Tournament on the road on Monday night, March 5. NIU will face either Bowling Green or Eastern Michigan, pending the outcome of tonight’s Bowling Green-Buffalo contest.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.