Sophomore wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed six rebounds as Northern Illinois gave DePaul all it could handle before falling, 69-64, on Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena.
In a contest that featured 10 ties and 14 lead changes, a five-point deficit with a minute to play ultimately proved to be too much for the Huskies to overcome.
Neither team led by more than four for most of the second half until Cleveland Melvin gave DePaul a five-point advantage, 63-58, on a dunk with just over a minute to play. Freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township) then drained a triple to pull NIU within a pair with just 30 seconds left. After Worrel Clahar made two from the charity stripe, Springs connected on another trifecta, bringing NIU within a point, 65-64, with 16 seconds to play.
Springs finished with 11 points, including 3-of-4 from behind the 3-point line.
Brandon Young made two more free throws to put the Blue Demons up by three and, after NIU came up empty on its next possession, Clahar iced the game with another pair from the line, giving DePaul the final five-point margin.
DePaul went 21-of-25 (84.0 percent) from the free-throw line in the contest, including 14-of-15 (93.3 percent) in the second half. Northern Illinois (2-7) went 7-of-8 (87.5 percent) from the free-throw line in the contest.
“Anytime you can go on the road and be in the game with five minutes to go that is a positive,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “After a tough loss at Milwaukee, then going through finals, we had to play a Big East school and the guys came out competing, playing hard and we had a chance to win.”
“We have to take away that we need to start the second half a lot faster. You can’t wait until five minutes have been played to get going because sometimes you can’t come back. We battled, we had 18 offensive rebounds, but we have to get to the free-throw line more. We made a good percentage but we only got there eight times.”
The Huskies and Blue Demons traded baskets in the early going, neither team building a lead larger than four in the opening eight minutes of the contest.
Freshman forward Sam Mader (Appleton, Wis./Appleton East) evened the game, 16-16, with a layup off an offensive rebound with 11:36 to play in the first half. DePaul answered with six-straight before the Huskies responded with the next six to pull back even, 22-22, with just under eight minutes left in the opening half. Sophomore forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) started the burst with a jumper from the elbow before freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) went coast-to-coast twice on turnovers to pull the Huskies back even.
Davis finished with a career-best nine points to go along with a game-high four steals.
DePaul (8-3) grabbed a three-point lead, 27-24, until a seven point burst gave NIU a four-point lead. Springs started the run with a triple from the wing, freshman guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) added a jumper and Springs finished the run with a layup to give the Huskies a 31-27 lead with two minutes to play in the first half, forcing a DePaul timeout.
The Blue Demons scored the final six points of the half to take a 33-31 lead into the break. DePaul shot 52 percent (13-of-25) in the opening 20 minutes while the Huskies shot 44.8 percent (13-of29). NIU turned the ball over 14 times against the DePaul full-court press, but the Blue Demons had 12 turnovers of their own in the opening stanza.
DePaul jumped out to a seven-point lead, 40-33, with a 7-2 burst to open the second half, but the Huskies had an answer, scoring 10 of the next 13 points to pull back even, 43-43 with 12 minutes left.
Gray started the run for the Huskies, Nader added a pair of baskets, Davis made two from the charity stripe and Baker added a layup off an offensive rebound to pull NIU back even.
The game swung back-and-forth for the next eight minutes, with neither team leading by more than a pair.
Nader buried a triecta to give the Huskies a 56-54 advantage with 4:20 to play in the contest. DePaul answered with a triple from Jamee Crockett to give DePaul a one-point lead.
The Blue Demons lead reached five on a pair of free throws each by Melvin and Young. Gray answered with a jumper for the Huskies with 1:29 left before Melvin’s dunk put the Blue Demons back up five with just over a minute to play.
Gray finished with eight points and six rebounds. Young finished with a team-high 15 points to lead DePaul, Crockett added 14 and Cleveland Melvin scored 12 for the Blue Demons who won their sixth consecutive contest.
The Huskies will return to action on Wednesday, Dec. 19 when they travel to Seattle to take on Seattle University in the first of a two-game trip to the Pacific Northwest. Game time against the Redhawks is scheduled for 9 p.m. CT.