Just a few short weeks ago Northern Illinois was 5-1 in the MAC and sitting in the driver's seat in the MAC West. They were popping up on projected brackets for the NCAA Tournament and excitement surrounded the program.
Then a five-game losing streak happened.
Losses at Akron, Miami, Ohio and Kent State combined with a loss at home to Buffalo brought the Huskies back down to the rest of the division. A Saturday afternoon match-up with Akron was a tough task to handle, but the Huskies proved they were up to it.
Aaric Armstead put up 21 points and netted the final two free throws to pull the Huskies past Akron 80-79. Down one with just seconds left, the senior drove into the lane as was fouled by Akron's Isaiah Johnson. The huge free throws did not scare Armstead one bit, and he calmly sank both of them.
Both teams played a really competitive first half. Freshman Josh Williams, Akron's surging sixth man, came off of the bench again and picked up where he left off from last Tuesday's game. He scored 14 points in the first half, nailing four 3-pointers. The Zips and Huskies both ended up shooting over 50 percent from the field in the opening frame, with Akron taking a 41-40 lead into the locker room.
Akron got off to a great start in the second half, as Reggie McAdams nailed three straight 3-pointers to push the Akron lead to six. A few minutes later a Jake Kretzer three put Akron up 61-52 with 10:57 on the clock, giving the Zips their largest lead of the game.
Then the Huskies woke up.
A 17-3 NIU run made the Convocation Center come alive, and the Huskies looked like they couldn't be stopped. Five Huskies contributed those 17 points, including two 3-pointers from Travon Baker, four from Marin Maric and a bucket each from Chuks Iroegbu, Marshawn Wilson and Andrew Zelis.
Akron didn't give up though. The Zips stormed back with a 7-2 run behind two straight Noah Robotham threes. With the game tied at 71, Armstead had a nice tip-back weak-side dunk as a questionable foul was called on the Akron point guard. Keith Dambrot went nuts, angrily pulling off his tie and berating the referees. He, not surprisingly, picked up a technical for his efforts.
The Huskies only made two of the four free throws, giving them a four-point lead. A Williams three cut that to one, and after a Johnson free throw Williams was fouled. He sank both freebies, giving Akron a two point lead.
It was Armstead once again who came through, getting a lay-up and drawing a foul on the next possession. Johnson was fouled on the ensuing Akron trip, sinking both to give Akron a one point lead. Then Armstead made the play in the video above, sinking both free throws to notch the victory.
Williams led all scorers with 22, his third straight 20-point game. Johnson had a nice game as well, getting 16 points along with 6 rebounds. None of Akrons' starters had great games, but Robotham did end up with 11. Antino Jackson had a surprising off-game, only scoring five points while committing six turnovers.
Maric played Robin to Armstead's Batman, notching a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Laytwan Porter had a nice game off of the bench, scoring ten points and grabbing four rebounds. He also had three assists and three steals.
Akron heads back home to face a Buffalo squad reeling from a bad home loss to Ohio and without Lamonte Bearden. The Huskies will stay in DeKalb to face Bowling Green.
|Points||A. Armstead (21)||J. Williams (22)|
|Rebounds||M. Maric (11)||Two tied (6)|
|Assists||T. Baker (5)||A. Jackson (4)|
|Blocks||A. Armstead (1)||Two tied (2)|
|Steals||L. Porter (3)||Three tied (1)|