The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team survived a Monday night scare from Bowling Green, winning 54-51 in overtime in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at the NIU Convocation Center.
Redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) led the Huskies with 13 points and nine rebounds.
NIU led by three, 49-46, but Bowling Green had the ball with 23 seconds remaining in regulation. After a missed triple try by the Falcons, the offensive rebound was tipped out to Jehvon Clarke who drained a triple to tie the game with 1.5 seconds left.
In the overtime, NIU scored first on a driving layup by sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) and Threloff scored on a put-back as NIU took a 53-49 lead in the opening two minutes of the extra session.
Bowling Green (12-20) cut the Huskie lead to a pair on the next possession and then neither team scored until a free throw by Threloff put the Huskies in front by three, 54-51, with just 15 seconds left. The Falcons held for the last shot, hoping to force another overtime with another late-clock triple, but Clarke’s attempt to force a second overtime didn’t go and NIU survived to advance to Cleveland.
“What a game,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “It was like a heavyweight fight. You just didn’t know who was going to win. You have to give Bowling Green credit; it was tough on them coming here from Buffalo. I thought we got off to an amazing start, Bowling Green answered the bell.
“We were short-handed tonight, but we found a way to win the game. I’m very excited to go to Cleveland. Everyone knows that is our No. 1 goal, and we get to keep the dream alive.”
Redshirt junior Pete Rakocevic (Chicago, Ill./Wilbraham & Monson/Sacramento State) did not dress due to illness.
With the win, NIU improves to 15-16 on the season. The 15 victories marks a 10-game turnaround over last season’s five wins, the largest single-season win turnaround in program history.
Freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) scored 12 points. Bowie added nine points, six rebounds, four steals, three blocks and three assists.
NIU scored 27 points off 22 Bowling Green turnovers; the Falcons converted 16 Huskie miscues into just 10 points.
After Bowling Green scored the opening two points of the contest, NIU used a 10-0 run to take an eight-point lead less than five minutes into the contest. Aaric Armstead scored four of the 10 as the Huskies jumped out to the early lead.
The Falcons trimmed the NIU lead back to four, 17-13, just past the midway point of the first half, but the Huskies responded with an old-fashioned, three-point play from Threloff to push the lead back to seven.
NIU led by eight, 28-20, with less than two minutes to play, but Bowling Green finished the half with a 6-2 spurt to cut the Huskie lead to just four, 30-26, at the intermission. Junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) led NIU with seven points in the opening 20 minutes; Jehvon Clarke led all scorers with 10 points for Bowling Green.
Bowling Green took its first lead of the second half, 37-34, with 13:55 left, using a 7-0 burst to pull in front. The Huskies answered with a bucket in the post by Threloff and a basket by Bowie off a Bowling Green turnover to regain the lead, 38-37, with 11:38 remaining.
The Falcons responded with the next four to take a three-point lead, 41-38. NIU trimmed the lead to two, but a triple from Richaun Holmes pushed the Falcon advantage to five, its largest of the contest, 44-39, with 6:35 to go.
With Bowling Green leading by three, Aaric Armstead drained a triple from the corner to pull the Huskies back even, 46-46, with less than four minutes to play. A basket by senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) and a free throw from Aaric Armsetad gave the Huskies a three point lead heading into the game’s final seconds.
Clarke led Bowling Green with 15 points. Holmes scored 10 points and added a game-high 14 rebounds; Cameron Black also had 10 points for the Falcons.
With the victory, NIU advanced to face sixth-seeded Eastern Michigan on Wednesday night, March 12, in the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena. The Huskies and Falcons will square off 30 minutes following the first game of the night between Ohio and Miami (Ohio); that contest will tip-off at 5:30 p.m. CT (6:30 p.m. ET in Cleveland).
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.