An 11-3 run pulled Northern Illinois within six with 1:43 to play, but Washington made enough plays down the stretch to escape with a 67-57 victory on Saturday afternoon at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Sophomore wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) led NIU with 18 points.
Nader scored in double figures for the third time in four games this season after missing practice on both Thursday and Friday due in a leg injury suffered Wednesday night against Seattle University.
“Our guys definitely responded from Wednesday night’s game because we guarded our opponent tonight,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “You have to give Washington credit, but I thought that we definitely checked a lot better and that made a big difference. I thought our guys really played hard against a good Washington ballclub.”
Northern Illinois (2-9) shot 39.3 percent (22-of-56) while holding Washington to just 31.6 percent (18-of-57) shooting, but UW made 22-of-24 free throw attempts and NIU was just 8-of-11 from the charity stripe.
Back-to-back baskets by Mader and sophomore forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) evened the score, 10-10, seven-and-a-half minutes into the contest. Washington (8-4) then used a 13-2 run to take an 11-point lead, 23-12, until freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township) made a layup to trim the lead back to single digits with just over seven minutes to play in the half.
Kevin Gray finished with a season-high-tying 10 points and five rebounds in just 16 minutes of action before fouling out.
A 6-0 burst brought Northern Illinois within a half-dozen, 31-25. Freshman forward Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) opened the burst for NIU, Kevin Gray and freshman guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) each added baskets to bring NIU within striking distance with 1:39 to play in the half, but Washington scored the final five points of the opening stanza to take a 36-25 lead into the intermission.
C.J. Wilcox led all scorers with 10 for Washington in the opening 20 minutes; Kevin Gray led NIU with six. Northern Illinois shot 44.0 percent (11-of-25) in the first half while holding Washington to just 32.3 percent (10-of-31) shooting, but Washington was 11-of-12 from the charity stripe to just 2-of-5 for NIU and UW out-rebounding NIU, 21-13, in the first half.
After NIU cut the Washington lead to eight, 40-32, UW used a 9-2 spurt to push its advantage to 49-34 with 14:29 to play.
Northern Illinois continued to hang around, scoring eight of the next 11 to pull back within 10, 54-44. The lead ballooned back to 14 before back-to-back triples from Nader and junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) pulled NIU within eight, 60-52, with four minutes to play.
After a triple by Washington, Bolin answered with another trifecta and sophomore forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) added a layup to bring NIU within six, 63-57, with 1:43 left. On the ensuing possession it looked like Northern Illinois had the stop it needed, but Abdul Gaddy came up with an offensive rebound and then made a pair of free throws.
The bigger Washington Huskies grabbed 22 offensive boards in the contest and out-rebound NIU overall, 42-30.
NIU came up empty on the next possession and Washington made two more free throws for the final 10-point margin.
Wilcox led Washington with 22 points. Aziz N’Diaye added 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds while Gaddy chipped in 12 points.
“This was a successful trip,” Montgomery said. “We went 0-for-2 but we definitely got better as a team. We did some team-building things, we saw the sites, and it was just unfortunate that we ran into a better team tonight.”
Following a brief holiday break, Northern Illinois will return to action Saturday, Dec. 29, when the Huskies hosts Massachusetts at the NIU Convocation Center. Game time against the Minutemen is scheduled for 3 p.m.