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2016-17 MAC Men’s Basketball Recap: Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

A big day from the bench lifts NIU to a 77-62 win on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Illinois Huskies took care of business in their last non-conference game of the 2016-17 campaign as they downed the Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars 77-62 on Saturday afternoon. The disparity between the two teams’ depth showed as NIU (8-5) dropped 32 points off the bench while Illinois-Springfield non-starters tallied 24 in the effort. The Prairie Stars’ Eddie Longmeyer led all scorers with 16 points, but the Huskies had three players score in double-figures and had a 6-14 edge in turnovers.

Neither team was able to gain much of an advantage in the first half until NIU went on a 12-2 run to push the lead to 34-26 with 1:33 left in the period. Marshawn Wilson finished that stretch strong for the Huskies with a trey and a layup, but the Prairie Stars crept back to a 34-31 deficit at the buzzer. UIS was able to stay in the game thanks to their play on the boards as the team had a +6 rebounding edge in the first 20 minutes despite shooting 35.3% from the field.

The game was busted open at the start of the second half as Northern Illinois went on a 10-0 run with four points each from Dontel Highsmith and Marin Maric to set the score at 44-31 with 17:07 left in regulation. The Prairie Stars never threatened again in the contest as the Huskie lead didn’t dip under ten points for the remainder of the game. Maric and Jaylen Key each had strong second half showings as they combined for 17 points and nine boards while the team forced 11 turnovers in the final stanza.

NIU might have came out with a win, but there are several things to be concerned with as it heads into MAC play. To lose the battle on the boards 41-38 and to be as stagnant in terms of ball movement with only nine assists in the game (four in the first half!) has to be discouraging if you’re a Huskies fan. It’s hard to see this team being very successful in the conference season, but stranger things have happened.

Northern Illinois opens the MAC slate with a road contest at Miami at 6 p.m. Tuesday.