Playing without its leading scorer, sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) due to illness, the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team led Western Michigan most of the way before falling late, 61-56, on Tuesday night at University Arena.
Freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) led NIU with 15 points, redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) added 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, his third career double-double, second at NIU.
“Both teams competed at a high level,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “It came down to a one-possession game … credit Western Michigan; they found a way to win it in the end. We were a little shorthanded tonight, but both teams played hard.
NIU (13-16, 7-10 MAC) out-rebounded Western Michigan, 35-29, and scored 16 second chance points to just five for the Broncos, but Western Michigan went 26-of-33 (78.8 percent) from the free-throw line while NIU was just 13-of-17 (76.5 percent).
The Broncos led by three early on until five-straight points from senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) gave NIU a 13-11 lead just past the midway point of the opening half. Bolin finished with six points and three assists.
NIU led by one, 17-16, before redshirt junior Pete Rakocevic (Chicago, Ill./Wilbraham & Monson/Sacramento State) hit a cutting Threloff at the rim and junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) connected on a pair of free throws to push the Huskie lead to five, 21-16, with 5:41 to play in the first half.
Aaron Armstead finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
Western Michigan (20-9, 13-4 MAC) answered with the next six to regain a one point lead. Sophomore J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) converted a layup that was answered by the Broncos but Aaric Armstead closed the scoring in the opening 20 minutes with a drive to the basket and an up-and-under finish as NIU took a 25-24 lead into the intermission.
Aaric Armstead had a layup and Threloff made a pair of free throws to open the second half as the Huskies opened up a five-point advantage, 29-24.
A triple and an old-fashioned three-point play helped Western Michigan climb back within one, 31-30, but a pair of free throws from sophomore Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and a basket by Threloff helped NIU regain the five-point lead with 13:45 left.
The Huskie lead was still five, 46-41, until a 7-2 burst by the Broncos gave Western Michigan its first lead of the second half, 49-48, with 3:42 remaining.
Western Michigan went ahead by four before a pair of free throws from Aaric Armstead and a basket by Aaron Armstead pulled NIU even, 55-55, with just 49 seconds to play.
A bucket by Connar Tava put the Broncos back in front, 57-55, and the Western Michigan lead grew to three after NIU split a pair of free throws and Western Michigan made a pair.
Aaron Armstead then appeared to pull NIU back even with a triple with 11 seconds to play, but he was called for an offensive foul before the shot. Western Michigan made a pair of free throws for the final five-point margin in the contest.
Shayne Whittington led all scorers with 21 points for Western Michigan, including 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. David Brown scored 18 points for Western Michigan, including 9-of-11 at the line.
The Huskies will return home Saturday, March 8, as they host Ball State in the regular season finale. Game time against the Cardinals is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and the contest will be the second game of a doubleheader as the NIU women’s basketball team will face Western Michigan at 1 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.