NIU turns early lead into easy win over Central Michigan

DeKALB – In its past three wins, Northern Illinois had to put together big comebacks.

In recent victories over Kent State, Ball State and Miami (Ohio), the NIU men’s basketball team trailed by double digits before fighting back for wins.

Wednesday was a different story. The Huskies only trailed for a short period in the first half of an 88-63 victory over Mid-American Conference West Division bottom-dweller Central Michigan.

“That’s uncharted waters right there. It’s a lot easier,” NIU coach Mark Montgomery said with a smile. “Our guys jumped out and they maintained their focus, and they kept expanding on the lead.”

NIU improved to 11-12 and 4-6 in the MAC. The 11 wins are the most since the 2005-06 season. It’s also the Huskies’ fourth win in their past five games.

NIU led early, taking a 7-4 lead after an Aaron Armstead 3. Central Michigan fought back and took a 23-21 lead on a Chris Fowler 3 with 8:37 left before halftime. But the Huskies regained the lead on a Pete Rakocevic layup just more than two minutes later. The Huskies started to pull ahead, and went into halftime leading 38-29.

NIU got off to a quick start in the second half, taking a 15-point advantage on a Darrell Bowie layup and Travon Baker jumper, and didn’t look back.

Bowie led NIU with 19 points, with Aaric Armstead adding 17. Jordan Threloff finished with 14 and Daveon Balls had 11.

It was Threloff’s fifth double-digit scoring effort in his past seven games. He went 4 of 8 from the field and 6 for 6 from the line, capping his night with two late dunks, one in which he received a technical for hanging on the rim a little too long.

“Just kind of finding my groove again,” Threloff said. “I had a start at the beginning of the year where I had a couple double-digit games, then I was just on a little slow streak. My teammates had confidence in me; coach had confidence in me.”

Threloff added seven rebounds and Bowie and Armstad each had eight to lead NIU, which outrebounded the Chippewas 39-19.

“They’ve got some nice players, some good size inside, which we don’t have yet in our program, and they were able to expose that. But you can only expose that with really good coaching and being able to have good spacing,” CMU coach Keno Davis said. “We’re not a great rebounding team, but teams don’t beat us by 20. We might be getting beat on the boards by two or three.”

Wednesday’s win concludes NIU’s three-game homestand. The Huskies return to the road Saturday, when they will face Akron at 6 p.m. NIU returns home Thursday, Feb. 20 against Eastern Michigan.