DeKALB – There were 49 fouls called in Northern Illinois’ season opener against Nebraska Omaha on Friday.
The visiting Mavericks took advantage of them, while NIU did not, in Nebraska Omaha’s 68-66 win.
Nebraska Omaha (1-0) went 27 of 32 (84.4 percent) from the free-throw line, while NIU shot just 15 for 28 (53.6 percent). The NIU men’s basketball team led by 11 points at halftime but saw the advantage slip away, failing to make key shots from the line down the stretch.
“When you have the lead and you want to expand on the lead but you get fouled, you have to go to the line and capitalize,” NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. “And we didn’t capitalize.”
Nebraska Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said the the amount of fouls most likely was because of the NCAA putting a greater emphasis on hand checking.
“I think we’re going to see that for a while, and it is what it is,” he said. “So, they’re told to call it. So if they’re going to call it, we have to adjust to it.”
The Mavericks took their first lead of the second half, 66-65, on a CJ Carter layup with 14 seconds remaining. NIU had two possessions to try to tie the score, but wasn’t able to hit the big shot. NIU had the chance to build on its lead before Omaha made its run, but couldn’t put the game away.
“We have to find a way to, no matter what, finish games,” Montgomery said. “I thought we had the lead late when we could have won the game, but they made a few more plays than us down the stretch. Our Achilles heal today was our free-throw shooting.”
Sophomore forward Darrell Bowie led NIU with 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Daveon Balls added 13. Junior center Jordan Threloff had nine. Unfortunately for NIU, Threloff picked up four fouls and was on the bench toward the end of the game, and Montgomery decided to go with Pete Rackecovic at the center spot instead.
It was Threloff’s first real game at the Convocation Center since playing in the DeKalb-Sycamore contest in 2010.
“It was a good feeling,” The DeKalb grad said. “It would have been a lot better, would have been a lot happier with a win.”
Hansen said the Huskies’ size up front gave his team problems.
“I think we really struggled down low. I think Northern Illinois, ... their size and their skill has really improved inside. I think they’ll give a lot of teams fits this year.”
The Huskies will return to the floor Friday when they play host to James Madison to open the NIU Invitational.