Trailing by as much as 15 in the first half, the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team rallied for a 67-65 overtime victory over Ball State on Saturday afternoon at Worthen Arena.
Sophomore Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) hit a game-tying three with six seconds left in regulation and freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) scored a career-best 14 points.
NIU (9-11, 3-5 MAC) played without senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker), who missed the game due to illness, as the Huskies dressed just nine players.
“I thought that was two competitive teams that really wanted to win that game,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Ball State’s defense and tenacity was unbelievable in the first half. We were fortunate enough to fight back, make it a one-possession game and eventually win it, but Ball State played awfully well.
“Travon Baker has become our go-to guy late in games … at Kent State he hit two free throws to win it, but that (three at the end of regulation) was probably the biggest shot of his career.”
With Ball State (4-15, 1-7 MAC) leading by nine, 52-43, and less than seven minutes remaining in regulation, NIU went on a 13-2 run, taking a 55-54 lead with 3:38 to play.
Sophomore J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) started the run with a triple in front of the Huskie bench, he was fouled, and converted the four-point play. Redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) added a pair of baskets and a triple by sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep), just his second of the season, gave NIU its first lead of the second half.
Threloff finished with 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Cravatta and Bowie each added nine points.
The Cardinals pulled back in front and led by three, 60-57, as NIU called a timeout with 20 seconds to play in regulation. Following the timeout, Baker drained a triple with nine seconds left to pull the Huskies back even.
Ball State called a timeout with 6.2 seconds remaining and had a look to win the game, but the shot didn’t fall and the game went to overtime.
Aaric Armstead opened the extra session with a bucket for the Huskies, but Ball State answered with a basket off an offensive rebound. Baker then rung up a trifecta to push the Huskies back in front with 3:11 left in the overtime.
A free throw by Baker put the Huskies up four; Ball State trimmed the lead back to one with 32 seconds left.
Baker split a pair at the line with 17 seconds to play and, without a timeout, Ball State needed to answer to extend, or win, the game. A layup attempt for the Cardinals didn’t go and time ran out with the teams scrambling on the floor for the rebound as NIU finished off the comeback win, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Cardinals.
Baker finished with eight points and a career-high tying six assists.
Chris Bond scored a game-high 16 points to lead Ball State. Jesse Berry added 13 and Zavier Turner had 11 for the Cardinals.
Even at 5-5 in the early going, Ball State used a 10-0 run to take a 15-5 lead with 14:40 to play in the opening half. Ball State led by 14, 21-7, until back-to-back baskets by redshirt junior Pete Rakocevic (Chicago, Ill./Wilbraham & Monson/Sacramento State) cut the Cardinal lead back to 10 with 5:50 left in the half.
The Cardinals pushed their lead back to 15, 30-15, but a 7-0 burst to end the half cut the Ball State lead to just eight, 30-22, at the intermission. Junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) started the spurt with a basket, Cravatta added a triple from the wing and Aaron Armstead capped the half with a pair of free throws with less than a second left as he got to the rim after a steal.
Aaric Armstead scored six points early in the second half, connecting on a triple from the wing and converting an old-fashioned three-point play, as NIU cut the Ball State lead to a half-dozen, 38-32, with 16:21 left.
A layup by sophomore Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and a pair of free throws from junior Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) pulled the Huskies within a pair, 38-36, with 14:50 to play, but Ball State responded with the next eight, pushing the lead back to 10, 46-36.
The Ball State lead was nine following a triple from Bond with 7:13 to play in regulation, setting up the improbable comeback by the Huskies.
The win, coupled with NIU’s comeback victory at Kent State on Wednesday, marks the first time since March of 2006 that the Huskies have won back-to-back road games in conference play (March 1, 2006 at Ball State, 78-73, and March 4, 2006 at Western Michigan, 74-59).
NIU will return to action Tuesday, Feb. 4, when the Huskies host Miami (Ohio) at 6 p.m., at the NIU Convocation Center. Note the tip time of 6 p.m. is one hour earlier than the originally scheduled 7 p.m., due to television.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.