The 22nd-ranked UMass Minutemen shot 57 percent in the second half and outscored the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team, 36-19, in the final 14 minutes Saturday afternoon en route to an 80-56 victory over the Huskies at the Mullins Center.
Freshman guard Dontel Highsmith (Dowagiac, Mich./Dowagiac) scored 10 points to lead NIU.
UMass shot 50 percent (29-of-58) for the contest while holding NIU to just 37 percent (20-of-54) shooting from the field. The Minutemen held a 23-5 advantage in second chance points.
“We were hanging around 6-8 minutes into the second half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We got back-to-back stops but we couldn’t get back-to-back makes. It’s difficult when you are playing catch-up, down 12 at the half, and you need multiple stops and multiple baskets. UMass is a very, very good team. They have a lot of weapons and you have to give them credit.”
Raphiael Putney made a trio of threes in the opening four minutes as UMass jumped out to a quick 11-2 advantage in the opening four minutes of the contest.
The UMass (9-0) advantage reached 14, 33-19, before an old-fashioned three-point play by redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) and a floater from sophomore guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) brought NIU (3-5) back within single-digits, 33-24, with 4:18 to play in the first half.
Threloff, limited due to illness, scored seven points, had two assists and two blocked shots.
UMass pushed its lead back to 13 until a four-point play by Balls trimmed the lead back to nine with 1:15 left in the half. Chaz Williams, the reigning National Player of the Week, ended the opening 20 minutes with a triple, his only points of the half, as the Minutemen took a 40-28 lead into the intermission.
Ballas led NIU with eight first half points, while Cady Lalanne and Putney each had 13 to pace the Minutemen.
Senior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) opened the second half with a triple before a layup by Highsmith with 16:23 to play cut the UMass lead to just eight, 41-33.
Bolin finished with a season-high eight points, including 2-of-2 from beyond the arc, to go along with four rebounds.
Following the Highsmith basket, UMass used an 11-2 burst to push its lead to 52-35 with just under 13 minutes remaining.
Lalanne led all scorers with 17 points, Putney and Clyde Santee each added 13 while Williams and Maxie Esho chipped in a dozen for the Minutemen, the top-ranked team in the nation according to the RPI.
NIU will return to action on Wednesday, Dec. 18, when the Huskies travel to Chicago to face Loyola. Game time against the Ramblers is scheduled for 7 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.