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Christmas Comes Late for Northern Illinois, Defeat Eastern Michigan for Trip to Cleveland

How do you set basketball back about 20 years? Let Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan play.

At one point Monday night, Virginia Commonwealth had more points in less than a half than the Huskies and Eagles could combine for in 20 minutes.

Yes, Virginia, it was 18-11 at halftime.

And yes, Virginia, both teams broke 50.

More importantly Northern Illinois somehow managed the win.

It wasn't pretty.

Through eight minutes, just four points had been scored. Through almost 19 minutes, Eastern Michigan had less than 10 points.

If Northern Illinois were any other team, this game would have been over at halftime. But the Huskies had something working Monday. It just isn't entirely clear what it was.

Maybe it was just their night. Upsets happen in these tournaments. Ask Middle Tennessee State, Iona and Oral Roberts.

There are no guarantees.

With 30 seconds remaining, Darrell Lampley shook loose a defender in the corner and had an open look at the basket. If that ball goes in, Northern Illinois would have lost any momentum it had.

It didn't go.

Aksel Bolin went to the other end and calmly sent through both of his free throws off the foul on his rebound. For maybe the only time all season, the Huskies had reason to be happy. Bolin danced a jig.

This is Northern Illinois though.

Jamell Harris had one last chance to even it at the buzzer for Eastern Michigan.

The ball hit glass, hit iron, and bounced away.

Lampley and Harris each finished with 13 points, with Derek Thompson adding 12 for the Eagles. Harris also pulled down eight rebounds.

But the story has to be someone other than Abdel Nader stepping up for the Huskies. Nader was marginalized by the Eagle defense and scored just two points.

Junior Tony Nixon rose to the challenge with 14 points and Bolin, who finished with 13 points including a 3-for-4 performance from 3-point land did more than just dance.

Northern Illinois now has to move on to face the height and strength of Western Michigan. Getting to Cleveland was miracle enough for the Huskies. It would be asking a lot for Santa Claus to bring them more gifts Wednesday.