Junior Aaric Armstead (Chicago, Ill./La Jolla Prep) scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team cruised to a 76-67 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
The Huskies held the Broncos to just 20.7 percent (6-of-29) shooting in the first half as they built a 19-point halftime lead and coasted home to the victory. With the win, NIU improves to 19-10, 8-8 in Mid-American Conference play; NIU’s 19 victories are tied for the fourth-most in school history and are the most since the 1995-96 season when the Huskies won 20 games.
Sophomore Marin Maric (Split, Croatia/La Lumiere School) finished one rebound shy of his eighth consecutive double-double as he recorded 16 points, nine rebounds and a career-best six blocks, tied for the second-most in a single game in NIU history.
“It was a great win, there is no such thing as a bad win, especially late in the season,” said NIU associate head coach Jon Borovich. “The last time we played Western Michigan we didn’t play great and they played with tremendous intensity, so that was a big point of emphasis today, and I think you saw that in the first half.“We are happy with today’s win and want to build on that momentum as we head into March and toward the MAC Tournament.
NIU and Western Michigan traded leads in the early going as both teams got off to a slow start on the offensive end. Tied, 9-9, just before the midway point of the opening half, Armstead knocked down a triple to spark an 8-0 run that gave the Huskies a 19-7 lead with 7:20 left in the half. Armstead made a jumper to extend the run and freshman Levi Bradley (Milwaukee, Wis./Pius XI) canned a triple to give the Huskies the eight-point lead.
Bradley finished with eight points and three rebounds.
After a pair of free throws by the Broncos, another Armstead trifecta ignited a 13-2 Huskies burst that pushed NIU’s lead to 30-13 with under four minutes to play in the half. Maric added a basket during the run, Armstead made his third triple of the half and freshman Laytwan Porter (Rockford, Ill./Auburn) scored the next five, including an old-fashioned three-point play, to push the NIU lead to 17.Porter finished with nine points, on 4-of-5 shooting, five assists and three steals.
Western Michigan (11-18, 5-11 MAC) trimmed the NIU lead to 15, 32-17, but six-straight Huskie points, four from senior Chuks Iroegbu (Sacramento, Calif./Franklin/City College of San Francisco) and two from sophomore Andrew Zelis (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton North/Kaskaskia College), pushed the NIU lead to 38-17 in the final minute of the half.
Iroegbu finished with eight points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the field.
The Broncos made two free throws before the intermission to cut the NIU lead to 38-19 at the break. NIU shot 61.5 percent (16-of-26) in the opening 20 minutes, Armstead led all scorers with 11 points.
NIU led 44-27 with 16:24 left before an 11-0 run pushed the Huskie lead to 28, 55-27, with just under 13 minutes to play. Maric started the burst with a three-point play, senior Travon Baker (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Consortium) added a basket, Armstead knocked in another trifecta, Maric added a free throw and Porter scored a bucket to give NIU its largest lead of the night.
Baker finished with eight points and seven assists.Western Michigan used a 16-2 run to cut the Huskie lead to 68-57 with just over two minutes left, the Broncos would get within eight points twice, at 71-63 and 75-67, but the NIU lead was never threatened as the Huskies improved to 16-1 at home this season.
Thomas Wilder led the Broncos with 17 points, Tucker Haymond added 12 points and Seth Dugan chipped in 10 for Western Michigan.