The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team trailed Ball State by seven with less than 90 seconds to go, but a furious rally saw the Huskies tie the contest with three seconds left, only to fall, 72-71, on a free throw by the Cardinals with 1.9 seconds remaining.
Junior Eugene German (Gary, Ind./21st Century Charter) scored a team-high 17 points, to go along with seven rebounds and four assists, senior Dante Thorpe (Washington, D.C./Triton College) added 15 points and seniors Levi Bradley (Milwaukee, Wis./Pius XI) and Lacey James (Grand Rapids, Mich./Rider) each chipped in 12 points.
The Huskies shot 59.4 percent (19-of-32) in the second half but couldn’t not overcome a 20-shot edge by Ball State at the free throw line. The Cardinals went 18-of-28 (64.3 percent) from the charity stripe while NIU was just 8-of-8.
“Tough way to lose a game,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “I liked our two-minute drill where we battled back. If we needed a two we got a two, if we needed a three (we got a three), we just didn’t execute and communicate at the end of the game, which was disappointing. It’s a teachable moment and it will help us in the long run.”
Ball State (12-11, 3-7 MAC) used a 17-2 run wrapped found the end of the first half and the opening three minutes of the second stanza to build a nine-point lead, 36-27.
The Cardinal advantage reached 45-34, its largest of the night, when the Huskies went on an 11-2 run to pull back within a pair, 46-45, with 10:23 to play. Junior Noah McCarty (Rock Falls, Ill./Sterling Newman) scored the first five of the burst, Thorpe added a basket and Bradley scored the last four to bring the Huskies back within two.
After Ball State scored the next five, NIU answered with the next seven to pull seven at 52. A pair of buckets from Thorpe, sandwiched around an old-fashioned three-point play from James, brought NIU even with just under seven minutes remaining.
NIU (12-11, 5-5 MAC) led 59-57 following a three-point play from sophomore Rod Henry-Hayes (Zion, Ill./Zion-Benton Township) with 4:35 left, but Ball State scored the next nine to take a 66-59 lead with 1:37 to go.
German scored the next five as the Huskies cut the lead back to just a pair with 42 seconds remaining. Ball State then made a pair of free throws, which were answered by a corner triple from James with 28 seconds left as NIU pulled within one, 68-67.
Two more free throws by the Cardinals were followed by a Bradley layup as NIU fouled again to send Ball State back to the line with 12 seconds left, leading 70-69. Ball State made the first free throw, but missed the second and James tracked the rebound down in the corner. German pushed it quickly into the frontcourt and finished at the rim to tie the contest at 71.
Ball State quickly inbounded and NIU was whistled for a foul in the backcourt with 1.9 seconds left, sending Tayler Persons to the line with the game tied. Persons made the first and missed the second intentionally, forcing a heave from 85 feet that was off the mark as the Cardinals escaped with the road win.
Persons finished with a game-high 29 points, Trey Moses added 22 points and 10 rebounds while Tahjai Teague scored 14 points with 13 rebounds in a game that featured seven ties and 11 lead changes.