Freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township) led Northern Illinois with 15 points but it wasn’t enough as Loyola Chicago escaped with a 53-46 victory on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
The Ramblers led by one at the half and used 56.3 percent shooting in the second half to claim the seven-point victory.
“I thought it was a defensive grinder type of game, especially when you see a 16-15 halftime score,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery.
“I thought both teams came out playing hard, playing physical. It went back-and-forth early in the second then they pulled away before we made a surge at the end, but you have to give it up to (Ben) Averkamp, their senior, he set the tone. He had 10 points at halftime and made the plays to put them ahead.”
Neither team was able to find much rhythm offensively in the first half; Loyola shot just 26.3 percent (5-of-19) in the opening half while Northern Illinois shot just 22.2 percent (6-of-27) in the first 20 minutes. After the half, Loyola shot 56.3 percent from the field (9-of-16) and made 15 free throws to earn the road win.
Freshman guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) scored six points and dished out a career-best four assists in his first career start. Junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) grabbed a team-high seven rebounds but as a team Northern Illinois was out-rebounded, 34-31, for the first time this season.
Trailing by just one, 16-15, at the intermission, NIU took its first lead of the game on a triple by Springs to start the second stanza.
The lead swung back to Loyola, 22-20, until an old-fashioned 3-point play by freshman wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) gave NIU the lead with 17:27 to play.
An 11-2 run by the Ramblers gave Loyola a 33-25 lead with just over 13 minutes left. The Loyola advantage grew to 12, 46-34, until an 8-2 burst pulled the Huskies to within a half-dozen, 48-42, with just over a minute to play.
Sophomore forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) opened the run with a basket and Bolin capped the burst with a three from the top of the key to cut the Loyola lead to just six, but that was as close as NIU would come.
In the first half, with the game tied at eight, Loyola used an 8-2 run to take a 16-10 lead with just under eight minutes to play in the opening 20 minutes. NIU then held Loyola scoreless for the final eight minutes of the first half and pulled within one, 16-15, with a 3-point play by Springs and a layup by Bolin.
Ben Averkamp scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds for Loyola. Cully Payne added 10 points for the Ramblers.
The Huskies will conclude their three-game home stand Tuesday, Nov. 27, when they host UIC at the NIU Convocation Center. Game time against the Flames is scheduled for 7 p.m.