Sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) scored a team-high 17 points as the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team finished the regular season with a 70-56 victory over Ball State on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
The win improves the Huskies to 14-16 on the season, 8-10 in conference play. NIU’s nine-win improvement over a season ago ties a school-record for the biggest single-season win improvement in school history.
“Senior Day is always an emotional day,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We only have two seniors but I was happy that we could start both of them. They both played extremely hard and the team rallied around winning that last regular season home game for the seniors.
“I thought our guys came out and established themselves on the defensive end and found a way in the second half to extend the lead and win the game. You have to give a lot of credit to our bench; anytime you get 37 points off the bench it is impressive. J.J. Cravatta had nine points, each of the Armsteads contributed, the whole bench did, and it was a huge key.”
Junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) scored 11 points while freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) and sophomore J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) each added nine as the Huskie bench outscored the Ball State reserves, 37-13.
NIU scored 15 points off turnovers in the contest while Ball State scored just four off of Huskie miscues.
Ball State (5-24, 2-16 MAC) jumped out to a 16-9 lead near the midway point of the opening half. NIU answered with a 13-4 burst to take a 22-20 lead with 5:08 to play before the intermission.
Aaron Armstead scored six during the burst and Aaric Armstead added five as the Huskies took a two-point lead.
The Huskies and Cardinals traded leads until the intermission, with a pair of free throws by sophomore Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) capping the scoring in the first half, giving NIU a 28-27 lead at the break.
Ball State’s Franko House and Majok Majok each scored eight in the opening 20 minutes to lead all scorers. NIU was led by seven points from Bowie and Aaric Armstead in the first half that featured five ties and nine lead changes.
NIU held a narrow two-point lead, 36-34, three-and-a-half minutes into the second half before a 12-1 run by the Huskies broke the game open.
Aaric Armstead opened the spurt with a pair of free throws, Balls and Bowie each added three points, Cravatta connected on a triple and redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) finished the run with a free throw as NIU took a 48-35 lead with just over nine minutes left.
Ball State cut the lead back to single-digits, 50-41, with 6:12 to play, but NIU scored the next seven, ignited by a triple from Cravatta, to push the lead to 16, 57-41, with just over five minutes left.
House led Ball State with 19 points and nine rebound, Majok added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Cardinals.
NIU will be back in the Convocation Center at 7 p.m. Monday, March 10, when the Huskies host a MAC Tournament contest for the first time since 2003. The Huskies will host Bowling Green. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster, at the NIU Convocation Center box office or by calling (815) 753-PACK.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.