Northern Illinois trailed by just one with 13 minutes remaining, but a 13-3 burst helped propel Nebraska Omaha to a 77-64 victory on Friday night at Ralston Arena.
“Omaha’s experience definitely got them over the hump in the second half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “They are an extremely well-coached and fundamentally sound team and tonight you saw one team with a lot of experience and one team with a lot of inexperience.
“It was a game of runs. We cut their lead, they came back and made a great run, but we answered again. It was there for the taking but you have to execute and take care of the ball down the stretch.”
Nebraska Omaha (1-0) shot 47.1 percent (24-of-51) in the contest while NIU shot 42 percent (21-of-50) from the field. The Huskies out-rebounded Nebraska Omaha, 35-28, but NIU (0-1) committed 24 turnovers.
Sophomore forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) opened the scoring with a layup off a slip to the rim but UNO answered with eight-straight points until redshirt junior guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) buried a corner triple to cut the lead back to three, 8-5, with 15:48 to play in the first half.
Trailing 18-11, Balls cut into the Mavericks lead with a triple. After a free throw by sophomore forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy), freshman guard J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) nailed a corner trifecta to even the game, 18-18, with eight minutes to play in the first half.
NIU took a two-point lead, 21-19; on an old-fashioned 3-point play by freshman forward Sam Mader (Appleton, Wis./Appleton East) with 7:18 to play in the first half. Omaha responded with seven-straight points to take a 26-21 advantage.
The Mavericks led by four with 3:38 to play in the first half but NIU trimmed the lead to just one, 33-32, at the break. Bolin hit a jumper and freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) made a pair of free throws to pull the Huskies within one at the intermission.
Bolin led NIU with six points in the opening 20 minutes; Justin Simmons had nine to lead the way for UNO. The Huskies shot 38.5 percent (10-of-26) in the first half but used a 22-12 rebounding advantage to stay within a point at the break.
Northern Illinois scored the first four points out of the intermission until UNO answered with an 11-2 run, taking a 44-38 lead with 15:40 to play, forcing a Huskie timeout.
After the UNO lead reached 10, a quick six-point NIU burst pulled the Huskies back within four, 48-44, forcing a Nebraska Omaha timeout.
The Huskies trailed by just one after a triple from freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township). Nebraska Omaha responded with a 13-3 run to lead 61-50 with just over eight minutes remaining.The Huskies climbed back to within seven after back-to-back baskets by Springs and Keith Gray, but the Huskies could get no closer as Nebraska Omaha opened the new Ralston Arena with a victory.
C.J. Carter led Nebraska Omaha with 16 points. Alex Welhouse added 13 and John Karhoff and Simmons each chipped in 12 for the Mavericks.
NIU will return to action on Tuesday morning, Nov. 13, as the Huskies travel to Valparaiso to play the Crusaders as a part of ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The contest is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m., and will be televised live on ESPN.