ROSEMONT – Playing without its leading scorer for the first six games of the season wasn’t easy for the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team.
But freshman Akeem Springs said it never really felt like Abdel Nader, who played his second game in Sunday’s 69-64 loss to DePaul, was away from the team when the sophomore was suspended for unspecified reasons.
“He practices really hard. You can tell every day in practice,” Springs said. “We’ve had him in all of the practices, and he’s been handling it really well. It’s not something we have to get used to again.”
Coach Mark Montgomery announced Nader’s indefinite suspension shortly before NIU’s season opener. Montgomery never gave out a solid date for Nader’s return, but said Sunday that the sophomore “lived up to his obligations and it was time to play” when he was activated for NIU’s overtime loss to Milwaukee nine days earlier.
“It was definitely very tough,” Nader said of the suspension. “But I just worked on my game and couldn’t wait to get back out here.”
For most of Sunday’s loss, it wasn’t easy to tell that Nader was playing in only his second game.
The Skokie native was aggressive as ever on both ends of the floor on his way to 20 points. That aggression led to two early fouls, which forced him to sit for the last seven minutes of the first half.
“I just told him that we can’t have him in foul trouble,” Montgomery said. “You want your best players on the floor in extended minutes.”
After a quiet first half, Nader scored seven points in a three-minute span in the second half to put the Huskies ahead with 10 minutes remaining. After the Huskies fell behind, he scored seven consecutive NIU points to give the Huskies a 56-54 lead with 4:20 left.
Nader had a chance to be NIU’s hero when he took a fall-away 3 with six seconds left with the Huskies down three, but the shot clanked off the rim. Still, he finished the game with 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting along with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“For his second game, he’s definitely the scorer and our go-to guy on offense that you need,” Montgomery said. “Hopefully his best basketball is still ahead of him.”