The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team saw its double-digit second half lead reduced to just three, but the Huskies held off Central Connecticut State to earn a 61-55 victory over Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
Sophomore Eugene German (Gary, Ind./21st Century Charter) scored a team-high 19 points, junior Levi Bradley (Milwaukee, Wis./Pius XI) added 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds while junior Anastasios Demogerontas (Orland Park, Ill./Moraine Valley CC) chipped in 10 points as the Huskies led wire-to-wire in the contest.
“The most important thing is that we won the game, we found a way,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We had a big lead, it dissolved, but we found a way to hang on. It wasn’t our best basketball, it would have been a little better if we made more free throws, we just couldn’t make one today. We didn’t get our fast-break going, but we found other ways to win the game.”
NIU (6-4) blitzed out to a 16-4 lead in the opening eight minutes of the game. German scored nine of his 19 in the first seven minutes, Bradley had five points early and sophomore Noah McCarty (Rock Falls, Ill./Sterling Newman) had a layup as the Huskies were up a dozen early on.
Central Connecticut (5-5) answered right back with the next eight to cut the NIU lead to just four, 16-12, before layups by freshman Gairges Daow (Melbourne, Australia/Victory Rock Academy), who was making his first career start, and junior Lacey James (Grand Rapids, Mich./Rider) pushed the lead back to eight with just over eight minutes to play before the intermission.
A triple and a layup by Demogerontas, sandwiched around a Central Connecticut free throw, helped the NIU lead grow to 35-20 with just over a minute left in the first half, but the Blue Devils scored the final four points of the opening stanza to cut the lead back to just 11, 35-24, at the break.
NIU shot 50 percent (13-of-26) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, including 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from three, while holding Central Connecticut to just 38.5 percent (10-of-26) shooting, including just 1-of-10 from behind the three-point line.
Four minutes into the second half the Huskie lead was still 11 until a pair of free throws by Bradley and a triple from Demogerontas helped the NIU advantage grow to 46-30 with 14:45 left.
Central Connecticut came alive following the Demogerontas three, using an 11-0 run to cut the NIU lead to just five, 46-41, with a little over 11 minute to play. Kashaun Hicks capped the Blue Devil burst with back-to-back threes.
After Bradley stopped the run with a layup, Hicks knocked down another triple to bring Central Connecticut within four, 48-44.
NIU led by five as the Huskies and Blue Devils traded baskets, but with 1:19 left Central Connecticut made a pair of free throws to cut the lead to just three, 58-55.
Central Connecticut came up with a defensive stop as the clock ticked under a minute to play with a chance to pull even, but McCarty came up with a steal to give the ball back to the Huskies.
McCarty finished the game with a career-high four steals as the Huskies forced 17 total turnovers, while committing just 11, and led in point off turnovers, 21-9.
NIU missed the front-end of a one-and-one but Bradley came up with an offensive rebound, one of just five offensive boards for the Huskies, and put the game away from the foul line.
Tyler Kohl led Central Connecticut with 20 points, Deion Bute added 12 and Hicks finished with 11 points.