DeKALB — The offense fell asleep at the wheel in the first half of NIU's 72-49 home loss to Akron on Tuesday, but almost made up for it with a furious rally over the first eight minutes of the second half, coming from down 24 to within eight.
But the Zips (14-3, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) had an answer when Tyler Cheese mounted his own 9-0 run to erase the Huskies' comeback hopes as Akron went up, 56-40, with under nine minutes left in the game. Cheese scored a game-high 23 points, with 16 coming in the second half.
The Huskies (9-8, 2-2 MAC) struggled their way to 18 of 73 shooting (24.7%).
“I think like coach said, it was one of our worst shooting nights that we’ve ever shot before," Eugene German said. "I’m not worried about it. I feel like we’re going to bounce back.”
NIU scored on three of its first four possessions of the second half, with German and Trendon Hankerson both scoring in transition, and German knocking down a long 3-pointer to pull within 17, 44-27. Tyler Cochran's soft shot off the glass brought that deficit to 15 before the first media timeout of the second half.
“Defensively, it would have been nice if we had started the game like we started the second half, more aggressive on both ends," NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. "We had better player movement, ball movement, we got stops, we got out in transition. We just looked like a different team after halftime.”
German led the Huskies with 17 points despite struggling on 6 of 22 shooting from the floor, and grabbed eight rebounds. Cochran scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds, five of them on the offensive end.
“The energy should have kept the whole game," Cochran said. "Teammates always telling you to keep it going, pushing, we going to fight through it, get through and it being ready to play when your number is called.”
Montgomery said he inserted Cochran into the game early in the second half on a hunch of good things to come.
“He plays with great energy and he brings effort and he brings some toughness," Montgomery said. "We were struggling scoring and I just knew, had a feel that he’d bring a spark that we needed, but it wasn’t just from him.”
Noah McCarty connected on a deep shot from well beyond the arc, and Lacey James scored on consecutive possessions as NIU found itself down just 46-38 with 13:24 left in the contest after trailing by 24.
“That was our basketball in the second half, how we came out," German said. "We came out sluggish in the first half. If we play our basketball, we can hang with any team in the MAC.”
Shooting troubles throughout the final eight minutes of the first half compounded NIU's trouble, as the Huskies trailed, 44-20, at halftime.
“Other guys have to step up," Montgomery said. "The ball can’t stick offensively. You’ve got to play aggressive.”
Loren Cristian Jackson made his first three 3-point attempts, leading the Zips to an early 11-2 lead. The Huskies scored only two points before the first media timeout 5:25 into the game. Akron grew its lead to 22-8 before the second media timeout.
“We’ve just got to learn how to fight adversity and fight back from it," Cochran said.
German, with nine points in the first half, was the lone Huskie starter to have scored at the break.
“You’ve got to have balance and the first three MAC games we had balance," Montgomery said. "That’s why we were ahead in all three of those games.
By the numbers: The Huskies did not score until the 15:13 mark of the first half, when German stole an errant pass and finished a layup on the other end. Later in the half, NIU went on an 0-of-16 shooting stretch as the Zips extended their lead to 39-17 thanks to a 14-0 run. After going on a 12-2 run to start the half, the Huskies went through a dry spell of 1-of-13 shooting to end the game. The Huskies outrebounded the Zips 50-41 and grabbed 22 offensive rebounds. Loren Cristian Jackson scored 17 points and had eight assists.
Beyond the stats: At one point late in the first half, the Huskies grabbed offensive rebounds on four consecutive shots but did not score before giving the ball up.
They said it: “We had some layups, we just missed them," Montgomery said. "You’ve got to make them. I don’t think they did anything different either (half). Players make plays and unfortunately, we didn’t make plays early and we put our head down.”
Up next: NIU plays at Bowling Green on Saturday, while Akron hosts Toledo on Sunday.