Trailing by 13 in the second half, the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds but came up just short, falling, 63-58, to Nebraska on Saturday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) came off the bench to score a career-best 18 points; freshman guard Dontel Highsmith (Dowagiac, Mich./Dowagiac) added a career-best 13 points.
“We were down, I thought we had good shots, we just didn’t make them early but it never felt like they got away from us, even though we were down by 13,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “I thought we outplayed them the first 10 minutes of the game, even though we were down at halftime. We hung in there and got a big boost from Threloff, they were having trouble guarding him inside.
“We were a few possessions here or there from pulling off an upset. I thought we responded great in the second half, credit our guys, we had a chance with eight seconds to go to force overtime. Our guys battled, we didn’t back down, we just needed one more bounce.”
After a pair of free throws from Threloff with 14:45 left in the contest, the Nebraska (5-2) lead was just eight, 43-35, but the Cornhuskers scored the next five to extend the lead to 48-35, their largest of the contest
Threloff scored the next six points in the contest to bring the Huskies back within seven, 48-41, just past the midway point of the second half.
NIU (2-4) still trailed by seven after a Threloff jumper with 6:17 to play. The jumper sparked an 8-1 Huskie run that pulled NIU within a pair, 57-55. Senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) made a pair of free throws, redshirt junior Pete Rakocevic (Chicago, Ill./Wilbraham & Monson/Sacramento State) had a bucket and sophomore guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) capped the burst with two from the charity stripe with just 1:18 to play.
A basket by Leslee Smith pushed the Nebraska lead back to four, 59-55, until Highsmith curled around a screen and drained a triple to bring NIU within one with just 8.3 seconds remaining.
After Nebraska hit a pair of free throws with 7.6 seconds left to take a three-point lead, NIU had a look at a triple to tie game but the shot rimmed out and the Cornhuskers escaped with the victory.
Deverell Biggs led Nebraska with 18 points; Smith added 13 and Terran Petteway chipped in 12 for the Cornhuskers who had won their previous three home games by an average of 22 points.
The Huskies shot 75 percent (15-of-20) from the free-throw line in the second half while the Cornhuskers shot just 56.5 percent (13-of-23). NIU and Nebraska each grabbed 38 rebounds and committed 16 turnovers in the contest.
NIU got off to a good start in its first road game of the year, Highsmith and senior guard Antone Christian (Nashville, Tenn./Martin Luther King Magnet) each connected on triples from Fothe wing, giving NIU an early 8-2 lead
The Huskies continued to lead through the early minutes of the contest, a basket by Threloff gave NIU a 16-12 advantage with 12:08 to play in the first half. Nebraska responded with a 12-2 run to lead, 24-18, with just over nine minutes to play in the half.
A basket by HIghsmith and a free throw from junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) brought the Huskies back within three, 24-21, but the Cornhuskers used a 9-3 burst to push the lead to 33-24 with a little under four minutes to play in the half.
Nebraska still led by nine until a put-back by Rakocevic on NIU’s final possession brought the Huskies within seven, 35-28, at the break.
The Huskies will return to action Thursday, Dec. 5, when they host Dartmouth at the NIU Convocation Center. Game time against the Big Green is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the contest will be NIU’s lone home game in the month of December.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.