The Northern Illinois Huskies celebrated their finest defensive performance of the season as they stifled the Bowling Green Falcons in a 45-36 decision on Sunday afternoon at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The Huskies won the game despite earning their lowest scoring output of the season. NIU's offense was so poor that they scored just eight points and made only one field goal in the first 16:59 of the second half. Eventually, they managed to score 11 points in the final 3:01 to win a game that has to be absolutely forgettable for both teams.
|(Click link for boxscore)
The game started as poorly for both teams as you could possibly imagine. It took BGSU 4:49 to score its first field goal, and the teams combined for just three successful field goals in the first 11:22 of the game. In fact, the teams had already combined for 16 turnovers (eight each) to go with those three field goals with 11:57 left in the half. Neither squad ventured into double-digit scoring until NIU's Travon Baker sank a jumper to make the score 10-6 with 8:38 remaining.
NIU picked up their scoring from that point until halftime. Including Baker's score, the Huskies went on a 17-8 run to build an 11-point lead only 82 seconds before halftime. It would be their biggest lead of the game. Ultimately, the Huskies settled on a 26-18 lead at the break. The two teams combined for 19 turnovers in the half (NIU 9, BGSU 10), but they scored only ten points as a result. Bowling Green's nine takeaways resulted in just two points.
After halftime, it was the Falcons who had the hot hand. BGSU scored the first eight points of the half in the first four minutes, and the run was capped off with a three by Zack Denny. The points were the first in the freshman's career at Bowling Green. Daveon Balls reclaimed the lead for the Huskies with a three of his own, but Denny responded with another long-range shot with 13:42 left to re-tie the score at 29. Richaun Holmes then had two thunderous dunks and an outstanding hustle block within a 60-second span to give BGSU a 33-30 lead with 11:57 remaining.
It seemed as if Bowling Green had all the momentum, but instead, the team went stone cold in every way possible. The Falcons managed just one field goal for the final 11:57 of the game, and that came on a jumper by Jehvon Clarke with 5:16 left. Somehow, that gave BGSU a 35-34 lead, as both teams absolutely refused to take advantage of the other's offensive ineptitude.
Finally, NIU took advantage, as the Huskies scored 12 points in the final three minutes. Aksel Bolin started the run with a three-pointer, and Baker effectively sealed the win with a three that made the score 42-36 with just 1:04 left in the game. In the same final three minutes, BGSU made no field goals and just one free throw in six attempts. The Falcons put together one of the worst possible halves of free throw shooting. In addition to the 1-for-6 effort in the final three minutes, BGSU had missed five free throws earlier in the half and made just one of 11 free throws in the entire second half.
A meaningless Darrell Bowie dunk in the final ten seconds gave Northern Illinois their final 45-36 advantage. That dunk, it should be noted, was not well received by Falcon fans. Bowling Green had made it clear that they were not going to foul on the final possession, and NIU could have run out the clock.
BGSU finished the game 12-for-41 (29.3%) from the floor, while NIU was 14-for-43 (32.6%). Both teams shot under 50% at the free throw line; the Huskies were 13-for-28 (46.4%) while the Falcons were 9-for-21 (42.9%). The amazing thing about the free throw numbers for BGSU? They preceded their 1-for-11 performance in the second half by going 8-for-10 in the first half. As for field goals, the teams combined for 26 made shots...and also combined for 30 turnovers. Yes, they managed more turnovers than successful field goal attempts.
(Keep this in mind -- NIU and BGSU combined for 74 points in the MAC football championship game. On Sunday, the two basketball teams combined for 81 points).
Perhaps most disturbing for Bowling Green, who features two of the better "bigs" in the conference, was their rebounding deficit. The Huskies won that battle 40-29, and almost all of the difference came in the first half. In that time, NIU had 20 rebounds to BGSU's ten, and they had more offensive rebounds (8) than BGSU had on defense (7). The advantage in turnovers also went NIU's way. The Huskies forced 17 turnovers and gave away just 13, and they outscored the Falcons 16-5 in points off those turnovers.
Northern Illinois was led by Travon Baker, who scored 13 points and made four of nine field goals. Darrell Bowie and Jordan Threloff each secured eight rebounds. Richaun Holmes led all Bowling Green players with 12 points and eight rebounds. He also had an amazing six blocks to increase his season total to 48 in just 15 games. Jehvon Clarke scored nine points to go with four rebounds and five assists, but he needed 11 shots to get those nine points.
The victory gives the Huskies a 7-7 overall record and a 1-1 mark in the MAC. They will follow this win with two huge cross-division home games. On Wednesday night, they return to the court against Kent State, then they play host to Ohio on Saturday night.
Bowling Green drops to 6-9 overall with their loss. They are also now 0-2 in the MAC and are the only 0-2 team in the Eastern Division. The Falcons return to the court on Wednesday night at home against Central Michigan in a game they simply must win. They follow that game with trips to Western Michigan and Ohio.