Despite a team-high 15-point performance from freshman forward Sam Mader off the bench, NIU men’s basketball fell to the University of Illinois at Chicago at the Convocation Center on Tuesday.
Mader helped lead the Huskies (1-4) bench to an impressive 28 points, but it was not enough as the Flames (5-1) stayed hot, defeating the Huskies 58-46.
“Coach said be confident in the pregame, so I came out with a lot of confidence,” Mader said. “My teammates did a good job of feeding the post, and after I made a few buckets I got some more confidence.”
With the exception of Mader, no NIU player scored in double figures.
The Huskies had a difficult time putting the ball in the basket as they shot just 32 percent from the field in the game.
“I thought we had some open looks and we just kind of missed them,” said coach Mark Montgomery. “I thought we were getting some good shots, but if the ball doesn’t go in at a consistent basis, you tend to press a little bit or you tend to maybe go one-on-one.”
The Huskies entered this game after only turning the ball over nine times against Loyola and only one turnover coming from their guards.
In this game, the Huskies got careless with the ball at times as they turned the ball over 15 times, four alone by freshman guard Daveon Balls.
The 15 turnovers ended up leading to 17 points for the Flames.
“You have to credit their defense some and you have to say, you know what, our decision making may have to be a little better,” Montgomery said. “Especially with our point guards, when you walk away with six between both guards, that’s hard to stomach.
“But we’re going to change that and hopefully continue to be under 10 [turnovers].”
For UIC, it was an overall team effort, as it had its usual four scorers in double figures. The Flames were led by senior forward Hayden Humes, who scored 18 points while going two of three from the 3-point line.
“I thought that their big four came in and we had to try to limit those big four, that they were always scoring in double figures,“ Montgomery said. “And you look at the stats again, and their top four players have double figures.”
The Huskies came out and took a quick 3-point lead when freshman guard Akeem Springs hit a 3-pointer to take a 3-2 lead, but once UIC junior guard Daniel Barnes hit a 3-pointer to give the Flames a 5-3 lead, the Huskies trailed the rest of the game.
The Huskies hung around all game and never seemed to go away.
In the second half, sophomore forward Kevin Gray scored on a layup to cut the Flames’ lead to 38-33 with 11:10 left to play in the game.
This was the closest the Huskies would get to challenging UIC for the lead.
Down the stretch, the Flames used their strong shooting from the free throw line to close out the game as they went 13-18 in the second half.
“Gary [Talton] handling the ball, knocking down the free-throws like he’s supposed to, those are key things,” said UIC coach Howard Moore. “If you want to win on the road, you got to have good ball security, you got to have good defense and you got to make free throws when it counts, and our guys did a good job of that down the stretch.”