Sophomore wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) scored a game-high 23 points as Northern Illinois claimed a 74-61 victory over Central Michigan on Wednesday night at McGuirk Arena. The Huskies shot 60 percent (12-of-20) from the field in the second half while holding the Chippewas to just 29.2 percent (7-of-24) shooting in the second stanza.
Northern Illinois (4-13, 2-3 MAC) led by one at halftime, 32-31, and pulled away in the second half to earn its second road win of the season. Junior forward Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) added 13 points and freshman guard Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) added 10 in his return to his home state.
"We got off to a good start, but then they went ahead by about 10 and Abdel Nader made some big shots and then our confidence grew," said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. "You could see at halftime the look it our guys eyes that they were going to find a way to win this ballgame. We shot 60 percent in the second half and we shared the basketball, we didn't really take care of it but we did a great job of sharing the ball."
Nader finished the contest 8-of-12 from the field, including 4-of-5 from behind the 3-point arc. Last season, the sophomore from Skokie scored 24 points at Central Michigan.
A pair of free throws by Baker gave NIU a one-point lead, 9-8, with 15:23 to play in the first half. Baker scored the first eight points of the contest for the Huskies, including connecting on a pair of triples. Central Michigan responded with a 13-2 burst to take a 21-11lead with 9:24 to play before the intermission, forcing a NIU timeout.
Following the timeout, Nader connected on a trifecta to bring the Huskies back within seven. The triples got Nader going as he scored 11-straight for the Huskies, pulling NIU back within four, 26-22, with just over five minutes left before the break.
Central Michigan (9-9, 2-3 MAC) pushed the lead back to six but Northern Illinois finished the half on a 10-3 run to take a 32-31 lead into the half. Nader led all scorers with 12 points in the opening 20 minutes; Kyle Randall and Blake Hibbitts each had five to pace the Chippewas.
NIU and CMU both went 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) from behind the 3-point line in the opening 20 minutes. The Huskies shot 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from the field while the Chippewas shot 36 percent (9-of-25), in a first half that featured four ties and six lead changes.
NIU pushed its lead to three on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Bolin with 16:45 to play; the lead reached six, 44-38, when freshman guard J.J. Cravatta (Streator, Ill./Streator Township) followed with a triple from the corner in front of the NIU bench.
The Chippewas pulled the Huskie lead back to just a pair, 50-48, just before the midway point of the half but the Huskies responded with a 12-1 run to lead 62-49 with 5:21 left.
Nader scored the first five to ignite the Huskie burst, freshman wing Darrell Bowie (Milwaukee, Wis./La Jolla Prep) added a pair of free throws and a layup to give the Huskies nine-straight points. Central Michigan split a pair of free throws before Bolin capped the run with a triple to give the Huskies their largest lead of the night.
Central Michigan clawed back within seven, 65-58, with just over two minutes to play before a jumper by Nader slowed the momentum for the home team.
The Huskies made their free throws in the final minutes, including four by freshman guard Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) to ice the contest and give NIU its first victory in Mt. Pleasant since 2006, snapping a six-game losing skid.
Balls finished with seven points, a career-best eight rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals.
"Our guys were focused tonight," said Montgomery. "They had something to prove, they had to prove to themselves that they could come out and compete for 40 minutes and they did that. We had to have some poise and patience on both ends, we did that and I am proud of this team."
The Huskies will conclude their two-game trip to the State of Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 23, when they travel to Ypsilanti to face Eastern Michigan. Game time against the Eagles is slated for 1 p.m. CT.
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