Xavier Silas dropped a Convocation Center record 40 points for the NIU men's basketball team in an 80-78 comeback win over Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday night.
The Huskies (3-4) played catch-up for the majority of the evening, starting the game off in a 15-2 hole. Using a 13-0 run in the second half, NIU turned a four point deficit into a nine point lead with 5:10 left in regulation.
Setting a career high for the third time this season, Silas’s night didn’t start as hot as it ended.
The only reliable place on the floor for Silas in the first half was the free throw line. Shooting 1-of-8 from the field, he couldn’t find the bottom of the net until he came to the line where he converted all 10 of his first half free throw attempts.
“First I was shooting a lot of jumpers and they weren’t falling,” Silas said. “They weren’t fouling in the first half but I still got to the line. It was okay because I was still getting to the line, and I was seeing the ball go in and that always helps me a lot.”
Shots from the field started to fall fast and furious for the senior in the second half, sinking 8-of-10 field goal attempts.
Averaging 28.29 points a game, Silas now leads the nation in scoring after passing UCONN's Kemba Walker (28.12) on Tuesday evening.
Deciding the game late, NIU sank 24-of-30 second half free throw attempts to seal the win over the Flames. On the night, Silas converted 22-of-24 free throws; setting a Convocation Center record for free throws made.
Coming into the game, UIC (4-7) had recorded more rebounds against all but two of its opponents this season. Realizing that rebounds may decide the outcome of the game, NIU head coach Ricardo Patton stressed being strong on the boards to his team. On the night, NIU out rebounded the Flames 39-34.
“Defensively, we couldn’t afford to give them second-chance opportunities,” Patton said. “We could not afford to be outrebounded by them. We didn’t want to get dominated on the glass, because their posts were bigger than ours.”
With backup-point guard Kyree Jones still battling an injury, the Huskies found themselves experimenting at the position when starting-point guard Bryan Hall was off the floor. Michael Patton initially handled the duties, but quickly received the hook after turning the ball over twice in three minutes.
Patton turned to Silas to take the ball up the court in the second half. Silas ran the offense sparingly in the second half while the Huskies were trying to keep the Flames at an arms length.
“I thought [Xavier] did a nice job running the team,” Patton said. “He didn’t over handle the basketball. You know if you look at teams like the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, sometimes Kobe [Bryant] runs the point. I just thought we needed to try that here with Xavier.”
Playing in place of Silas at shooting guard, Tony Nixon had eight points on 1-of-5 shooting in 23 minutes.
“Putting Xavier at the point, it allowed us to put another shooter out on the floor,” Patton said. “That really helped us to be able to put Tony Nixon out on the wing with Xavier on the point.”
With the exception of an 80-51 loss to Boise State on Nov. 29, Patton has liked the effort his team has put fourth this season.
“We knew going in that UIC is a well coached team and they put us behind in the first half,” Patton said. “But I think it showed a lot of resiliency to come back in the second half to battle back and get the lead.”
*Note After the game, an undisclosed member of the UIC coaching staff collapsed in the locker room. After being carried out on a stretcher, the condition of the coach had not been revealed as of press time.