After a painfully slow start and a narrow halftime lead the Northern Illinois Huskies shifted into overdrive and put the Ball State Cardinals away 70-56 to wrap up the No. 7 seed on Senior Night.
Though it was Senior Night it was a pair of underclassmen and a junior that led the Huskies to victory in DeKalb Friday night. Sophomore wing Darrell Bowie led NIU with 17 points and sophomore guard J.J. Cravata added a trio of 3-pointers off the bench to tack on nine. Junior guard Aaron Armstead, also coming off the bench, added 11 points to the mix.
In a game that started off slow and with the two teams trading blows it superior defense and the ability to eliminate turnovers in the second half that allowed NIU to take home the win. With Bowie and the Armstead brothers (Aaric and Aaron) leading the way for NIU and Ball State forwards Majok Majok and Franko House leading their team's charge the two squads fought tooth and nail for points in the first half. With both teams shooting under 40 percent and turning the ball over at breakneck paces in the first half the game entered halftime with NIU up 28-27.
Majok finished the game with 12 points and eight rebounds while House led the game with 19 points and nine rebounds.
But in the second half an energetic and emotional Huskies squad took it to another level. With Ball State's guards struggling NIU rattled off a 17-7 run in an 11 minute period to build its lead to 48-36. BSU didn't make a single field goal in that stretch, finally ending the run on a layup by Mark Alstok at the seven-minute mark, but by then it was too late. The Huskies road out their lead to a 14-point win and the few seniors on the team, including Norwegian wing Aksel Bolin walked off to a standing ovation from the home crowd.
It was an unusual loss for Ball State in that while this team is bad, arguably its most consistent player, freshman point guard Zavier Turner, was an absolute no-show. Turner started the game off with a 3-pointer 28 seconds in, but didn't make another shot in the loss, and coughed the rock up five times in all in what was a frustrating end to a terrible season for the Cardinals.
With the win NIU clinched the No. 7 seed and will open the MAC Tournament at home vs. 10 seed Bowling Green at 8 p.m. on Monday. With the loss Ball State clinched the No. 12 seed and travels to Athens, Ohio Monday to take on the No. 5 Ohio Bobcats at 7 p.m.