The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team led by 11 at halftime Wednesday night.
However, the team saw its lead slip away in the second half as they fell 53-48 to Eastern Michigan in the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.
Redshirt junior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) and freshman Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep), NIU’s two All-MAC honorees, led the way with nine points. Threloff added 10 rebounds and Aaric Armstead had nine boards.
With the loss, NIU ends its season with a 15-17 overall record. The 15 wins is a 10-win turnaround from a season ago, the largest single-season turnaround in school history.
“It was a game like our two previous games (with Eastern Michigan), close down to the wire,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “I thought my team played extremely hard, I told them that if we give ourselves a chance with 3-4 minutes to go that is all you can ask. With a minute to go we made a one-and-one and were up by one.
“Give Eastern Michigan credit, they were able to battle back, we just couldn’t buy a basket in the second half but I was proud that our guys didn’t let their offense dictate their play on the defensive end. We limited them to 30 percent shooting, but the ball didn’t bounce our way.”
The Huskies jumped out to the early lead as an old-fashioned three-point play by senior Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) and a wing trifecta from Aaric Armstead gave NIU an early 8-2 advantage. Eastern Michigan answered with the next seven to take a one-point lead, 9-8, with 15:44 to play in the opening half.
A short jumper from sophomore Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) and a thunderous dunk from Threloff driving the lane helped push the Huskies back in front, 17-14, with 11:35 remaining in the opening stanza.
With the game even, 17-17, Aaric Armstead knocked down a triple and then finished on the break to give NIU a five-point advantage, 22-17, with just over eight minutes left in the first half. The Eagles clawed back within two, but a corner triple from junior Aaron Armstead (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan/San Jose City College) pushed the Huskie lead back to five.
Eastern Michigan split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to four, but NIU answered with a 7-0 run to take a 34-23 lead. Threloff started the run with a bucket in the paint, sophomore Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) added a triple and a pair of free throws as NIU took that 11-point lead into the intermission.
After a free throw from Threloff opened the second half scoring, Eastern Michigan scored the next seven, cutting the Huskie advantage to 36-31 with just over 16 minutes remaining.
NIU answered with the next three on a free throw by Bowie and a layup from Aaron Armstead as the lead went back to eight, 39-31. Eastern Michigan used an 11-3 run to pull back even, 42-42, with 8:37 left.
The Eagles took their first lead of the second half, 44-42, but NIU answered on the next possession with a bucket from Threloff and a pair of free throws from sophomore Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) put the Huskies back in front with six-and-a-half remaining.
The lead swung back-and-forth in the final minutes, with a tip-in by Glenn Bryant giving the Eagles a one-point lead, 48-47, with 1:12 left. NIU came up empty on its next possession and appeared to have a defensive rebound on the other end, but the ball was tipped away and stolen by Eastern Michigan and the Eagles closed the game out at the foul line.
Karrington Ward led Eastern Michigan with 13 points and 12 rebounds; Bryant added 12 points and J.R. Sims chipped in 11 for the Eagles, who advance to face MAC East Champion Buffalo tomorrow night in the MAC Quarterfinals.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.