The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team led for 38 minutes, but Nebraska Omaha used 84 percent free throw shooting to slip past the Huskies, 68-66, on Friday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
Sophomore wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) scored a team-high 16 points to lead the Huskies.
Sophomore guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) added 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but the Huskies were unable to overcome a 53.6 percent shooting effort (15-of-28) from the free-throw line. Omaha connected on 27 of its 32 attempts from the charity stripe (84.4 percent).
“It seemed like we were in control in the first half, in a good rhythm,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We had a good lead at halftime, unfortunately we had a little foul trouble, and that definitely hurt us in the second half. I thought we played good enough to win the game but when you miss 13 free throws and you can’t expand on your lead it comes back to bite you.
“We have to find a way to finish game. We had the lead late but they made a few more plays down the stretch than we did.”
NIU (0-1) had led the entire second half and held a five-point lead, 60-55, with four minutes to go before a basket by Alex Phillips and a triple from C.J. Carter pulled the Mavericks even with 3:02 left.
After an old-fashioned three-point play from sophomore guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) put the Huskies back up three, 65-62, with just over a minute left, Carter responded with a pair of free throws and his own three-point play to give Omaha (1-0) a two-point edge with just 13 seconds remaining.
Both teams split a pair of free throws, giving the Huskies one last chance, down two, with six seconds to play, but a floater came up just short and Omaha escaped with the season-opening victory.
Bowie started the game hot, scoring six points in the opening three minutes to give NIU an early 9-6 lead.
The final five of Bowie’s opening half-dozen sparked a 13-2 run that gave NIU a 17-8 advantage just over eight minutes into the contest. Redshirt junior center Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) came off the bench to score six during the NIU burst, Threloff finished with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting in just 16 minutes as he was limited by foul trouble.
A basket by Omaha cut the NIU lead back to seven, 17-10, before a triple from sophomore guard J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) and a layup by Balls gave the Huskies a 22-10 lead, its largest of the contest, just before the midway point of the first half.
The Huskies took an 11-point lead, 39-28, into the intermission.
Omaha made seven of its eight free throw attempts in the opening five minutes of the second half as the Mavericks trimmed the NIU lead to just five, 42-37. The Huskies pushed the advantage back to nine, 50-41, but were unable to extend it further.
The Mavericks closed within a pair, 53-51, with just under 12 minutes to play but couldn’t pull even until Carter’s triple, his only one of the contest, with three minutes to play.
Carter led Omaha with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Marcus Tyus scored nine points off the bench and the Mavericks held a 36-33 rebounding edge over the Huskies.
NIU will return to action Friday night, Nov. 15, when they host 2013 NCAA Tournament participant James Madison in the second game of the NIU Invitational. The tournament begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday when San Jose State takes on UW Milwaukee.
For more information on NIU basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.