Sophomore wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) drained a pull-up jumper with 2.2 seconds left as Northern Illinois knocked off Kent State, 67-65, on Wednesday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
Nader’s game-winner gave him 26 points, tying a career-high; he also grabbed 11 rebounds for his first career double-double.
“What a difference from Saturday to Wednesday,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery.
“I loved how our players came out and responded after a tough game at Eastern (Michigan). I thought the start really helped get us going and I thought that we outplayed them for 39 minutes and 30 seconds but somehow they found a way to tie it.
“As I’ve been taught by coach (Tom) Izzo and a few other coaches, at the end of the game give your best player the ball, see what happens and Abdel Nader made a heck of a play.”
Northern Illinois (5-14, 3-4 MAC) led by eight with two minutes remaining before Kent State’s Devareaux Manley caught fire from behind the arc. Manley made a trio of three as the Golden Flashes went on a late 9-1 run to pull even with less than 30 seconds to play.
Out of a timeout, the Huskies spaced the floor and let Nader go one-on-one with a Kent State defender. Nader pulled up from near the free-throw line and sank the jumper to give the Huskies a two-point lead. The Golden Flashes threw a desperation 75-foot heave but it came up short and the Huskies earned their first victory over Kent State since Feb. 8, 2003, snapping an 11-game losing streak to the Golden Flashes. The win was the first for NIU at home against Kent State since Jan. 3, 1998.
An early 9-0 run gave Northern Illinois an 11-1 lead just 16:35 into the contest.
Sophomore forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) opened the burst for the Huskies with a pair of jumpers, Nader then connected on a triple to push the run to seven and force a Golden Flashes timeout. Following the timeout, junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) made a pair of free throws to extend the NIU advantage to 10.
Bolin finished with nine points for the Huskies.
Kent State (11-10, 2-5 MAC) answered with a 10-0 run of its own to pull even, 11-11, before a trifecta from freshman guard Akeem Springs (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan Township) and a fastbreak layup from freshman guard Mike Davis (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) put the Huskies back up five, 16-11, with just over 12 minutes to play in the first half.
After the Golden Flashes pulled back within a pair, 16-14, an 8-0 burst by NIU gave the Huskies a 10-point lead with nine minutes left in the first half. Nader started the spurt with a pull-up jumper, he followed with a triple and redshirt junior guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) capped the run with a trifecta from the wing to give the Huskies a 24-14 advantage.
The Huskie lead hovered around 10 until Kent State scored five of the final seven points in the half as NIU took a 34-27 lead into the intermission.
After the break, the NIU lead quickly evaporated as Kent State pulled back even, 34-34, with a 7-0 run in the first three minutes of the second half.
Tied at 38 apiece, the Huskies used a 6-0 run to lead 44-38 with just under 11 minutes to play. Freshman wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) opened the run with a basket, Nader added a pair of free throws and freshman guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) capped the spurt with a bucket.
Balls finished the night with four points and a career-best seven assists.
Kent State climbed back within one, 50-49, on a basket by Darren Goodson, but a pair from the charity stripe by Balls and another Nader trifecta pushed the lead back to six with just over six minutes remaining.
The lead ballooned to eight on a free throw by Nader with 2:09 left before Manley led one last charge by the Golden Flashes. Kent State tied the contest four times but the Huskies never allowed them to take a lead, with Nader’s jumper sealing the victory for NIU.
“I liked how our guys stuck together,” said Montgomery. “We made runs, Kent State came back and made runs, but we answered the bell every time.”
Goodson led the Golden Flashes with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Kris Brewer also added 14 points for Kent State.
The Huskies will continue their three-game homestand Saturday, Feb. 2, when they host Toledo at 3 p.m., at the NIU Convocation Center. At halftime of Saturday’s contest, one lucky fan will have a chance to win a car courtesy of DeKalb Sycamore Chevrolet Cadillac GMC.