The Northern Illinois Huskies fought through another low-scoring slugfest with the Bowling Green Falcons to advance in the 2014 Mid-American Conference Men's Basketball Tournament with a 54-51 overtime victory. The victory marks only the second time in the last 11 years that the Huskies have won a MAC Tournament game.
This game was very reminiscent of the offense-challenged 45-36 game the two teams played in January. Offensive output was actually decent in the first half but got progressively worse as the game wore on. By the overtime, points were almost non-existent.
Northern Illinois gave up an opening basket to Anthony Henderson, but they scored 10 straight points to grab an early eight-point lead. Aaric Armstead had the hot hand early with three baskets in the first six minutes. Eight of NIU's first 10 points were the direct result of five BGSU turnovers.
The Falcons pulled to within 22-18 five minutes before the end of the half. After falling behind early, BGSU was able to make six out of 11 shots and limited their turnovers. Diverse scoring allowed for five points from Craig Sealey and four more from Jehvon Clarke and Cameron Black during the push.
A 6-0 mini-run by the Huskies, which was capped by a 3-pointer from Daveon Balls, briefly gave NIU a 10-point lead. However, the Falcons scored eight of the final 10 points of the half. That included six more points from Clarke, and BGSU trailed just 30-26 at halftime.
The second half was incredibly close and dominated by defense. Neither team held a lead greater than five points, and the two combined for 42 points in the entire half. NIU, in particular, struggled to find any shred of offensive consistency. In fact, they scored only eight points and sank just three field goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
Bowling Green wasn't lighting up the scoreboard, either, but they were scoring enough to finally pull ahead 35-34 after a three-point play by Cameron Black that was followed with a free throw from Richaun Holmes. It was their first lead since 2-0. Holmes threw down a dunk for a 37-34 lead, and the two teams then traded four-point spurts that made the score 41-38 with 7:30 left in the game.
Holmes showed his versatility by drilling a 3-pointer with 6:34 remaining for what proved to be BGSU's biggest lead of the day, 44-39. NIU scored twice and BGSU once during the next 2:30, and four minutes separated Bowling Green and their 46-43 lead from a road upset. However, Armstead calmly put home a 3-pointer of his own, and all of a sudden, the game was tied and 3:45 remained on the clock.
The remainder of regulation was a showcase of missed shots and free throws, as well as turnovers. The Huskies managed three points for a 49-46 lead but could not sink free throws that might have put the game away in regulation. On the final possession, Holmes missed a trey, but Clarke pulled down the offensive rebound. He stepped back and tied the game with a 3-pointer. Just one second remained.
The game almost ended in regulation. Darrell Bowie made a horrible mistake by throwing the inbounds pass too deep, and it went out of bounds untouched. BGSU was awarded the basketball, and the inbounds play was under NIU's basket. The Falcons got the ball to Holmes, who took a shot at the buzzer that bounced harmlessly off the backboard and sent the game to overtime tied at 49.
NIU scored baskets at the end of the first and second minutes of overtime to grab a four-point lead (53-49). Clarke cut the deficit to two on a layup with 2:44 left, but that would be BGSU's only points of the overtime. Four turnovers doomed the Falcons; the previously mentioned layup by Clarke was Bowling Green's only field goal attempt until the final 20 seconds of overtime.
BGSU's defense clamped down and only allowed a single point via a free throw in the final 3:00 of the extra frame, but their offense could generate nothing. Damarkeo Lyshe missed one 3-pointer, then Clarke missed another at the buzzer that would have forced a second overtime, as NIU ended with a three-point victory.
Northern Illinois shot 50 percent in the first half but only 33 percent after halftime. They were also just 2-of-14 from beyond the arc and 8-of-17 at the free throw line. Bowling Green's line was very similar. The Falcons shot 48 percent (11-of-23) before halftime but only 10-of-29 in the second half. When shooting 3-pointers, they made 3-of-14, and BGSU was 6-of-11 at the charity stripe.
Turnovers were the real killer for the Falcons. Their 22 turnovers led to 27 points for the Huskies. The Falcons created 16 turnovers by NIU, but those resulted in only 10 points for BGSU.
Jordan Threloff led the Huskies with 13 points and nine rebounds, and Armstead added 12 points and five rebounds. Clarke made six of his 12 shots for BGSU and scored a game-best 15 points, but he also turned the ball over seven times. Holmes scored 10 and earned 14 rebounds. He also blocked two shots and, in the process, set the BGSU career record for blocks. In his final game with the Falcons, Black contributed 10 points and nine rebounds.
The 7th-seed Huskies (15-16) advance to the second round of the MAC Tournament, where they will face the #6 seed Eastern Michigan Eagles. Game time is approximately 9:00 p.m. (30 minutes after the 6:30 p.m. game ends), and the contest will be held at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NIU and EMU played two very close games during the regular season. The Huskies won on Feb. 20 at home in double overtime, 61-59. The Eagles returned the favor in Ypsilanti, Mich., 56-52, on March 1st.
Bowling Green ends their 2013-2014 season with a 12-20 record.