MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. -- Despite trailing by six with 32 seconds left, the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but a three-pointer fell short and Central Michigan escaped with a 70-67 win on Sunday afternoon at McGuirk Arena. Freshman Aaric Armstead led NIU with a new career-high 19 points and seven rebounds.
Sophomore Darrell Bowie had 14 points and sophomore Daveon Balls (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) added 10 points. Redshirt junior Jordan Threloff grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.
“We put ourselves in a position where we were climbing uphill and needed everything to go perfect, and today it didn’t go perfect,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Credit Central Michigan, they made two-or-three contested threes late … They shortened the game (in the second half), we shot 50 percent in the second half, but they made plays at the end of the shot clock.”
Central Michigan (10-16, 3-11 MAC) made 11 three-point field goals in the contest, more than half of their total field goals for the game (20). NIU (12-14, 6-8 MAC) outrebounded Central Michigan by 15, 37-22, including 13-6 on the offensive end of the floor, but the Chippewas held a 14-4 edge in second chance points.
CMU connected on three triples in the first five minutes as the Chippewas took an early lead, 9-8. A triple from Balls and a pair of free throws by Bowie helped push the Huskies back in front, 13-10, with 13:16 to play in the half, but CMU’s fourth triple evened the contest at 13 apiece.
A four-point play helped the Chippewas take a five-point lead, 18-13, but baskets from Aaric Armstead and Bowie pulled the Huskies back within one, 18-17, just past the midway point of the first half.
Central Michigan responded with a 7-0 burst to take a 25-17 lead with six minutes to play in the first half and the Chippewas continued to hold the lead the remainder of the half. A pair of free throws from Bowie closed the scoring in the opening stanza and cut the CMU lead to 32-25 at the break.
Bowie led NIU with eight points in the opening 20 minutes; Braylon Rayson scored eight to pace Central Michigan. The Chippewas made seven triples in the first half and held NIU to just 35 percent shooting (7-of-20) before the intermission.
Sophomore Travon Baker drove for a layup to open the second half and cut the Central Michigan lead to five, but the Chippewas scored the next seven, pushing their lead to double digits, 39-27.
A trifecta from senior Aksel Bolin helped NIU cut the lead back to a half-dozen, 44-38, with 13:19 left, but Central Michigan scored seven of the next nine to push the lead back to 11, 51-40.
Trailing by 10, Aaric Armstead knocked down a corner triple and Bowie converted an old-fashioned three-point play to bring the Huskies within four, 54-50, with 8:33 remaining.
Bowie finished 8-of-9 from the free-throw line as the Huskies shot 72.4 percent (21-of-29) from the charity stripe as a team.
The Central Michigan lead grew back to eight, but NIU cut the lead back to four with a corner triple from Aaric Armstead with 2:18 left. CMU answered right back with a three of its own to push the lead back to seven.
Trailing by six after a free throw by Chris Fowler, Threloff converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 22 seconds remaining, cutting the CMU lead to 68-65. After the Chippewas made two more free throws, Bolin knocked down a triple to cut the CMU lead to three, 70-67, with 12 seconds left.
With the Huskies pressing on the inbounds, CMU attempted to throw the pass long into the front court, but Baker tracked it down, giving the Huskies a chance to tie. A triple try off the initial turnover scramble didn’t fall and the ball was knocked out of bounds by CMU with 3.5 seconds left.
Following a timeout, NIU got a contested look at another triple try to tie, but the shot came up short and Central Michigan escaped with the win.
Rayson led Central Michigan with 19 points; Austin Stewart added 16 and Fowler scored 15 as CMU improved to 8-6 at home this season.
The Huskies will return home to the NIU Convocation Center on Wednesday, Feb. 26, when they host Toledo. Game time against the Rockets is scheduled for 7 p.m.