Despite trailing by six with 32 seconds left, the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but a three-pointer fell short and Central Michigan escaped with a 70-67 win Sunday afternoon at McGuirk Arena.
Freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) led NIU with a new career-high 19 points and seven rebounds.
Sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) had 14 points and sophomore Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) added 10 points. Redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.
“We put ourselves in a position where we were climbing uphill and needed everything to go perfect, and today it didn’t go perfect,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Credit Central Michigan, they made two or three contested threes late. They shortened the game (in the second half), we shot 50 percent in the second half, but they made plays at the end of the shot clock.”
Central Michigan (10-16, 3-11 MAC) made 11 three-point field goals in the contest, more than half of their total field goals for the game (20). NIU (12-14, 6-8 MAC) out-rebounded Central Michigan by 15, 37-22, including 13-6 on the offensive end of the floor, but the Chippewas held a 14-4 edge in second chance points.
CMU connected on three triples in the first five minutes as the Chippewas took an early lead, 9-8. A triple from Balls and a pair of free throws by Bowie helped push the Huskies back in front, 13-10, with 13:16 to play in the half, but CMU’s fourth triple evened the contest at 13 apiece.
A four-point play helped the Chippewas take a five-point lead, 18-13, but baskets from Aaric Armstead and Bowie pulled the Huskies back within one, 18-17, just past the midway point of the first half.
Central Michigan responded with a 7-0 burst to take a 25-17 lead with six minutes to play in the first half and the Chippewas continued to hold the lead the remainder of the half. A pair of free throws from Bowie closed the scoring in the opening stanza and cut the CMU lead to 32-25 at the break.
Bowie led NIU with eight points in the opening 20 minutes; Braylon Rayson scored eight to pace Central Michigan. The Chippewas made seven triples in the first half and held NIU to just 35 percent shooting (7-of-20) before the intermission.
Sophomore Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) drove for a layup to open the second half and cut the Central Michigan lead to five, but the Chippewas scored the next seven, pushing their lead to double digits, 39-27.
A trifecta from senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) helped NIU cut the lead back to a half-dozen, 44-38, with 13:19 left, but Central Michigan scored seven of the next nine to push the lead back to 11, 51-40.
Trailing by 10, Aaric Armstead knocked down a corner triple and Bowie converted an old-fashioned three-point play to bring the Huskies within four, 54-50, with 8:33 remaining.
Bowie finished 8-of-9 from the free-throw line as the Huskies shot 72.4 percent (21-of-29) from the charity stripe as a team.
The Central Michigan lead grew back to eight, but NIU cut the lead back to four with a corner triple from Aaric Armstead with 2:18 left. CMU answered right back with a three of its own to push the lead back to seven.
Trailing by six after a free throw by Chris Fowler, Threloff converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 22 seconds remaining, cutting the CMU lead to 68-65. After the Chippewas made two more free throws, Bolin knocked down a triple to cut the CMU lead to three, 70-67, with 12 seconds left.
With the Huskies pressing on the inbounds, CMU attempted to throw the pass long into the front court, but Baker tracked it down, giving the Huskies a chance to tie. A triple try off the initial turnover scramble didn’t fall and the ball was knocked out of bounds by CMU with 3.5 seconds left.
Following a timeout, NIU got a contested look at another triple try to tie, but the shot came up short and Central Michigan escaped with the win.
Rayson led Central Michigan with 19 points; Austin Stewart added 16 and Fowler scored 15 as CMU improved to 8-6 at home this season.
The Huskies will return home to the NIU Convocation Center on Wednesday, Feb. 26, when they host Toledo. Game time against the Rockets is scheduled for 7 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.