NIU Can’t Hold Halftime Lead

Sports

The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team led by three with under five minutes to play but a late run help lift Akron past the Huskies, 76-73, on Tuesday night at the NIU Convocation Center.

Senior Marin Maric led NIU with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Senior Aaric Armstead added 13 points and sophomore Laytwan Porter (Rockford, Ill./Auburn) chipped in 10 points for the Huskies.

NIU (13-9, 5-4 MAC) shot 52.8 percent (28-of-53) in the contest, including 66.7 percent (8-of-12) from three, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Akron’s 24-12 advantage in points off turnovers and the Zips improved to 19-3, 9-0 in Mid-American Conference play.

“I thought we played our best 20 minutes (of the season) in the opening half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We had 12 assists, we were making threes, we were out in transition. I thought we defended pretty well, other than Cheatham’s three threes. In the second half we ran out of energy and our turnovers cost us. We had 12 turnovers in the second half, we missed some free throws.

“We battled back, with under a minute to go we had the ball, we had the chance to tie it, or take the lead with a three, and we just didn’t capitalize. Credit Akron, there is a reason they are 19-3; they kept playing, they kept finding ways to shrink the lead, they are a good team.”

A pair of free throws by Porter gave NIU a 65-62 lead with 4:59 to play in the contest, but Akron scored the next eight to take a 70-75 lead inside the final two minutes. Isaiah Johnson scored the first six points of the run and Noah Robotham recorded the final two as the Zips took a five-point lead.

Senior Dontel Highsmith (Dowagiac, Mich./Dowagiac) cut the Akron lead to three with a pair of free throws with 1:28 left and, after an Akron turnover, Maric made a free throw that trimmed the Zips lead to 70-68 with 55 seconds to play.

NIU got the stop it needed on the next possession, but quickly turned the ball back over to the Zips with 23 seconds left. Akron went 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the closing seconds to hold off the Huskies, 76-73.

Antino Jackson scored 22 points to lead Akron, Johnson added 21 points and Robotham chipped in 10. Kwan Cheatham Jr., just missed a double-double with nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Zips.

NIU will return to action on Saturday, Feb. 4, when the Huskies host Eastern Michigan on Alumni Day.

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