Northern Illinois trailed Horizon League preseason favorite Valparaiso by just six at the half, but the Crusaders shot 68 percent from the field in the second half to take a 69-46 victory on Tuesday morning in the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) paced NIU with 10 points and nine rebounds.
“Give Valpo credit. They came out at halftime and stepped it up offensively,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “They are a good ballclub, a very good shooting team. Their defense, from when we played them last year, was a lot better. They are going to have a good year, they are well coached and (Ryan) Broekhoff was a handful for us today.
“What I liked about our club was we didn’t let our poor offense take away from good defense. We held them to 34 percent shooting in the first half; problem was we shot 18 percent. So, we didn’t let our offense affect our defense, we just wish some of those shots would go down early.”
With the Huskies leading by a pair early, Valparaiso used an 8-0 burst to take a 10-4 lead with just over 11 minutes to play in the first half. Following a timeout, freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township) ended the Valparaiso (2-0) run with a triple to cut the lead back to just three, but the Crusaders responded with the next five to push the lead back to 15-7.
The second triple of the morning by Springs cut the Valparaiso lead back to five, but Ryan Broekhoff answered with a triple for the Crusaders to give Valparaiso an 18-10 advantage with just under six minutes to play in the half.
Broekhoff connected on four 3-pointers in the first half and made five of Valpo’s eight field goals in the opening 20 minutes.
A pair of free throws by freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) and a pull-up jumper by Springs helped the Huskies stay within striking distance at the break, 23-17. Springs led NIU (0-2) with eight points in the first half; Broekhoff paced Valparaiso with 16 points, including four 3-pointers.
The Huskies shot just 18.8 percent (6-of-32) from the field in the first half, but held Valparaiso to just 34.8 percent (8-of-23). NIU outrebounded Valparaiso 23-17 in the opening 20 minutes and did not allow an offensive rebound.
Valparaiso’s Ben Boggs hit a pair of triples in the opening minute of the second half to push the Crusaders to a 29-17 lead.
The Crusader lead reached 14 but a triple from Bolin ended the 8-0 Valparaiso run to start the half and cut the lead back to 31-20 with 17:52 to play.
Another 10-0 burst by the Crusaders gave them a 44-22 lead with 13:32 left. Sophomore forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) ended the run with a jumper and the Huskies played even with Valparaiso for the next six minutes until back-to-back 3-pointers gave the Crusaders a 60-35 lead with just under six minutes to play.
Valparaiso went 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) from behind the 3-point arc in the second half.
The Huskies shot 39.4 percent (13-of-33) in the final 20 minutes but were unable to slow the red-hot Crusaders who shot 68 percent (17-of-25).
Broekhoff finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds to lead the way for Valparaiso. Matt Kenney added 16 points off the bench and Boggs chipped in 11 for the Crusaders.
The Huskies will return home on Sunday, Nov. 18, for the regular season home opener against Judson University. Game time is scheduled for 3 p.m.