Trailed by as much as 16 midway through the second half, Northern Illinois kept its game against Western Michigan interesting up to the final seconds. In the end the bigger, stronger, more experienced Broncos proved too much for NIU as the Brown and Gold won 74-71, thanks to impressive performances from seniors David Brown and Shayne Whittington.
The Huskies' loss wasn't for a lack of heart.
Down 12 points with under six minutes to go, the feisty Huskies mounted a valiant comeback effort. With Whittington in foul trouble, and Brown, who lit the Huskies up for 20 in the first half, neutralized, four NIU players combined for 13 points over the next 5:10 seconds to bring the game within two points with less than 50 seconds on the clock. After brown sank a free throw to push the Broncos lead to three, NIU inbounded the ball with under 10 to play.
Unable to create any real opportunities Travon Barker throw up a desperation three with five seconds left, that bounced off the backboard and into the outstretched arms of Whittington. The game was over, and NIU's rally had ended in failure.
But considering how things were going earlier in the game, the loss can actually be considered a victory of sorts for the upstart NIU squad that's made a habit out of late-game comebacks. Despite being out shot significantly from three point range, and out-rebounded by 10 (37-27), the Huskies managed to hang with WMU for much of the game.
The two teams went blow-for-blow in the first half. Even with the stellar play of Brown, WMU was never really able to separate itself from NIU. It wasn't until the final seven minutes of the half when WMU started feeding the rock to Brown at any cost that WMU gained firm control of the lead and started to impose its pace on the Huskies.
As Brown sank shot after shot NIU staggered to keep up, and settled for hasty jump shots instead of attacking the post. Brown and the Broncos took advantage, snatching up the rebounds and exposing NIU's transition D. Brown went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, including 3-for-3 from behind the arc in the first half, scoring 15 in the final seven minutes of the half, sending WMU into intermission up 37-33, and with momentum on the Broncos side.
Though he factored much less into the Broncos' second-half plans, Western Michigan picked up right where it left off. Behind dominate play from Whittington, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, WMU leapt out to an 11-point lead five minutes into the half. But, even with Whittington setting the tone for a physical inside game, the Huskies wouldn't stop fighting.
Jordan Threloff responded to Whittington blow for blow, scoring a team-high 16 while notching six rebounds. With Threloff giving NIU a post presence, and Brown significantly cooled off, the Huskies slowly began to chip away at WMU's lead.
Barker, who had 12 points in the loss, and Darrell Bowie, who added 11 and seven rebounds, helped keep the Huskies in the contest. Aaron Armstead added 14 off the bench, and together the young Huskies whittled away at WMU's lead until mounting that final rally. In the end though, it wasn't enough. WMU hung on, thanks in part to winning the battle in the paint, and to better shot selection.
With the win, Western improves to 14-8, and 7-3 in the MAC, good enough for sole possession of second place in the west. The Broncos have now won five of their last six, snapping NIU's three game winning streak in the process.
The Huskies fall to 10-12 and 4-6 in the MAC with the loss.
NIU returns to action Wednesday against CMU (8-14, 1-9 MAC). WMU takes on the reigning MAC Champions, Akron (15-7, 7-2 MAC), on Wednesday.