The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team trailed Buffalo by just two with eight minutes to play, but the Bulls scored seven of the next eight points in the contest and went on to a 75-67 victory on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
Senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) scored a season-high 17 points and grabbed a team-best seven rebounds for the Huskies.
Sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) added 14 points and seven rebounds and sophomore Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) had 12 points, a game-high five assists and a career-best five steals.
“I thought both teams competed hard,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “It got a little testy out there, but when you have two teams competing, battling, those things happen. In the second half we took better care of the ball, we got the game tied up, unfortunately we just didn’t have enough to finish. I thought we got good enough shots, they just didn’t go in, and Buffalo did enough things down the stretch to hang on.”
The two teams combined for 23 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, 12 for Buffalo and 11 for NIU, but each team committed just four in the second half. A total of five technical fouls were called in the contest, four of which were called on Buffalo.
NIU jumped out to a quick start, scoring the opening four points of the game. The Huskie lead grew to 9-2 in the early going, Bowie scored five of the first nine for NIU, helping the Huskies to the seven-point lead with 16:21 to play in the opening half.
Buffalo scored the next six to cut the lead back to one, but NIU answered with a steal and coast-to-coast layup from Baker and a 17-foot jumper from Bowie to push the lead back to five, 13-8, with just over 12 minutes left in the first half.
A pair of free throws from freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) grew the NIU advantage to seven before a quick 7-0 burst from the Bulls evened the contest at 15 with 9:13 to play before the intermission.
Baskets by Bolin and redshirt junior Pete Rakocevic (Chicago, Ill./Wilbraham & Monson/Sacramento State) put the Huskies back in front by four, but Buffalo responded with an 11-0 run, taking its first lead of the game, 26-19.
The Buffalo lead grew to nine, 32-23, on a triple by Joshua Freelove. The Bulls were 5-of-7 from behind the three-point arc in the opening 20 minutes.
A pair of triples from Bolin in the final two minutes helped the Huskies trim the Buffalo lead back to five, 34-29, at the intermission.
Bolin led all scorers with 10 points in the opening stanza; Bowie added nine for the Huskies. Freelove led Buffalo with nine points in the opening 20 minutes as the Bulls shot 59.1 percent (13-of-22) from the field in the first half.
Buffalo scored the first four points out of the intermission, pushing its lead to 38-29. NIU slowly trimmed back into the advantage, cutting the lead to four, 39-35, on a pair of free throws by Baker with 15:27 left.
A bucket by redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) off an offensive rebound pulled the Huskies within in, 46-45, with 12:11 to go. Buffalo answered with a basket to go back up three but an old-fashioned three-point play from junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) evened the contest, 48-48, with just under 12 minutes to go.
Buffalo scored the next six to reclaim the lead, 54-48, with a little more than nine minutes left before another Threloff layup from an offensive rebound and a pair of Threloff free throws cut the lead back to just a pair.
Threloff finished with eight points and five rebounds.
Once again Buffalo had an answer, using a 7-1 burst to take a 61-53 lead. A triple by Bolin with three minutes left cut the lead to just four, 66-62, but the Bulls made eight of their final 10 free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.
Javon McCrea scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed a game-best nine rebounds to lead the Bulls. Freelove added 13 points and Will Regan chipped in 12 for the Bulls.
NIU will head back on the road for its next two, beginning on Wednesday night, Jan. 29, with another matchup against the MAC East as the Huskies visit Kent State. Game time against the Golden Flashes is set for 6 p.m. CT. For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.