The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team trailed by 21 with 10:43 to play before closing on a 28-2 run to earn a 61-56 victory over Maine on Sunday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
Sophomore guard Michael Orris (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee/Kansas State) scored a career-high 18 points and junior wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) added 16 as the Huskies improved to 3-1 for the first time since 2006-07.
The 21-point comeback was NIU’s largest during head coach Mark Montgomery’s four-year tenure. NIU’s previous best under Montgomery was a pair of 15-point comebacks last season at Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 18, 2013) and at Ball State (Feb. 1, 2014).
“It was a tale of two halves,” Montgomery said. “Give Maine a lot of credit. They came out with great energy, great effort, they were making shots and played with a lot of confidence. I would say we were a couple of steps slow in the first half, we just couldn’t get going, we couldn’t make a basket.
“Credit our players. Credit NIU for going on a 28-2 run to end the game. We knew we had to get stop-after-stop. I told our team a few minutes ago that I thought they played with a lot of heart. It was a great effort and our players willed each other to win this game.
NIU grabbed 18 offensive rebounds in the contest and held an 18-4 advantage in second chance points. The Huskies shot 45.8 percent (11-of-24) in the second half after shooting just 17.9 percent (5-of-28) in the opening 20 minutes.
A triple by Marko Pirovic with 10:43 left pushed Maine’s lead to 21, its largest of the contest, 54-33, but NIU answered on its next possession with a trifecta from sophomore guard Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) that would ignite a 28-2 run to close the game.
Aaric Armstead finished with nine points, six rebounds and three steals.
Following the triple by Aaric Armstead, junior guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) came up with a steal and Orris knocked down a three to cut the Maine lead to 15.
The Huskie defense came up with a stop and Bowie made a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 54-41. Bowie then forced a Maine turnover and senior center Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) converted a layup and was fouled. The senior missed the free throw, but Bowie grabbed the offensive rebound and converted an old-fashioned three-point play of his own as the Huskies trimmed the Black Bears lead to just eight, 54-46, with 8:11 left.
The 13-0 burst by NIU came in just two minutes and 16 seconds.
Followed a media timeout, Orris connected on a pair from the charity stripe before Maine (0-5) finally answered with a basket by Aaron Calixte to push the lead back to eight; the Calixte bucket with 7:03 to play would be the last time Maine scored in the contest.
Orris answered with another layup and, following a defensive stop, Threloff split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to five, 56-51, with 5:08 to play.
A layup by Threloff cut the Maine advantage to just three with 2:40 left and the Huskie full-court defense turned up the pressure again as Aaric Armstead came up with a steal that led to a pair of free throws by Orris to pull within one, 56-55, with 2:24 to play.
Threloff finished with seven points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Following yet another Huskie stop, Baker split two free throws to pull NIU even, 56-56, with 1:42 to play; it was the first time the game had been tied since 2-2.
NIU forced another turnover and Bowie was fouled going to the basket with 50 seconds remaining. The junior from Milwaukee made both free throws and NIU took its first lead of the game, 58-56. Bowie finished 8-of-10 from the charity stripe in the contest.
The Huskie defense came up with two more stops and NIU made free throws in the final moments to pull off the improbable 21-point comeback.
Pirovic and Shaun Lawton each scored 10 points to pace the Black Bears.
In the early going, a 12-0 run by Maine gave the Black Bears a 14-2 lead with 13:22 to play in the first half. A basket by Bowie stopped the run by the Black Bears and a triple from senior Anthony Johnson (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young/Purdue) cut the Maine advantage back to single-digits, 16-7.
Johnson, who made his first appearance after missing the first three games due to injury, finished with seven points in 10 minutes.
Four-straight free throws, two by Orris and two by Aaric Armstead, trimmed the Maine lead to seven, but the Black Bears answered with the next seven to push their lead to 27-13 with seven minutes to play in the opening half.
In the final minute of the first half, Threloff connected on a pair of free throws to cut the Maine lead to 31-21 at the intermission.
NIU scored the first four to open the second half, cutting the Maine lead to just six, but a 14-2 run by the Black Bears pushed their lead to 19, 48-29, with 12:22 left in the second half. A pair of triples by Pirovic helped push the Maine lead to 21 before the furious comeback by the Huskies.
The Huskies will return to action Tuesday, Dec. 2, when they travel to Allstate Arena in Rosemont to take on DePaul. Game time against the Blue Demons is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.