Despite playing without leading scorer Darrell Bowie, the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team earned a 70-60 victory over Ohio University on Wednesday night at Ohio’s Convocation Center in the Mid-American Conference opener.
Senior Pete Rakocevic (Chicago, Ill./Wilbraham & Monson/Sacramento State) added a career-high tying 12 points and a team-best seven rebounds while senior Jordan Threloff (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb/Illinois State) also chipped in 11 points.
“I thought our guys came out very focused,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “When you lose Darrell (Bowie) to a should thing and Aaron Armstead bumps knees and is out, we had to play that ‘next man up’ mentality. Our guys understood the scouting report and came in with a defensive mindset. We were very patient on offense, played inside-out and we had the energy and effort it takes to win on the road.”
The Huskies and Bobcats traded the game’s opening baskets before an early 9-0 Ohio run pushed the Bobcats to an 11-2 lead inside the first six minutes of the contest.
NIU answered with a 13-4 burst of its own to take a 17-15 lead with 7:28 to play before the intermission. Armstead scored a half-dozen during the burst while Rakocevic added four points during the run.
Even at 21-21, Rakocevic knocked down a pair of baskets to push the Huskies in front by four with just over four minutes to play in the opening half. Ohio went back in front by three before a corner trifecta from Armstead with three seconds left in the opening half pulled NIU even at the break, 32-32.
Armstead had 11 points to pace the Huskies in the opening 20 minutes; Antonio Campbell had 11 to lead Ohio.
Senior Anthony Johnson (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young/Purdue) opened the second half with a triple and a three by Armstead helped extend the lead to four, 38-34, just over two minutes into the second half.
With the Huskies lead back at four, junior Chuks Iroegbu (Elk Grove, Calif./Franklin/City College of San Francisco) drove to the bucket and converted an old-fashioned three-point play to push the NIU lead to 46-39 with 11:53 to play.
Ohio cut the NIU lead back to four again, 49-45, until back-to-back driving layups from Rakocevic doubled the advantage to eight with 8:29 left.
After an Ohio triple cut the lead back to five, Threloff converted an old-fashioned three-point play and then made another basket as the Huskies took a 58-48 lead with 5:44 to play.
In the final five minutes, NIU went 12-of-14 from the free-throw line as the Huskies closed out their first win in Athens since 2007.
Campbell led the way for Ohio with 16 points, Javarez Willis added 15 and Maurice Ndour added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Bobcats.
NIU will return home Saturday, Jan. 10, when the Huskies host Kent State in their MAC home opener. Game time against the Golden Flashes is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the NIU Convocation Center.
For more information on NIU men’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.