DeKALB – Cleveland, here come the Huskies.
Although it wasn’t easy by any means.
The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team survived a scare from Bowling Green in Monday’s Mid-American Conference tournament’s first round, defeating the Falcons 54-51 in overtime to head to Wednesday’s second round at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
The seventh-seeded Huskies (15-16) advance to play No. 6 Eastern Michigan, which defeated No. 11 seed Central Michigan, at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the second round.
“It was like a heavyweight fight,” NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. “You just didn’t know who was going to win. You have to give both teams a lot of credit.”
At the end of regulation, Bowling Green had to pull off a near-miracle just to get the game to overtime. Down three points in the final seconds, the Falcons’ Richaun Holmes attempted a 3 that missed. But Bowling Green’s Cameron Black tipped it back behind the arc to Jehvon Clarke, who was in the right place at the right time and knocked down a 3 to tie the score with a second left.
“I didn’t think it was going to go in – he made it,” NIU center Jordan Threloff said. “We were able to just grind it out in overtime.”
Bowling Green even had a chance to win the game after an attempted NIU full-court pass went out of bounds on the ensuing possession. The Falcons called a lob play under NIU’s basket, but couldn’t convert.
The Huskies were aggressive on defense and did a good job frustrating the Falcons (12-19) all game. NIU forced 22 Bowling Green turnovers, converting 27 points off them. The turnovers often led to easy baskets, as the Huskies officially had 14 fast-break points.
NIU sophomore wing Darrell Bowie was huge for the Huskies on the defensive end, coming up with four steals, three blocks and six rebounds. The Huskies had a total of 17 steals, a season-high.
“I think our guys, they stay in their stance, they help each other,” Montgomery said of his team’s defense. “They know we’re not the most efficient team on offense, and if we’re going to have a chance to win we’re going to have to play amazing defense.”
Threloff led the Huskies with 13 points and added nine rebounds. Aaric Armstead finished with 12 points and Bowie added nine. NIU was without center Pete Rakocevic, who had the flu, while forward Kevin Gray played limited minutes because of a shoulder injury. Montgomery hoped both would be at full strength Wednesday.
It’s the second time Mark Montgomery’s team has advanced to Cleveland in his three seasons as NIU coach. Monday was the first time NIU had hosted a MAC tournament game since 2003.
“It was amazing,” Threloff said. “The crowd came out and really supported us tonight, and we just fed off of that.”