With home crowd support rarely seen at the Convocation Center and coach Mark Montgomery’s lucky orange tie, NIU men’s basketball won its second game of the season.
The Huskies (2-5) defeated the Cougars of Southern Illinois Edwardsville (2-6) by the score of 65-54 behind 2,750 fans, their largest crowd since 2010 against Northwestern, in support of the Orange Bowl Pep Rally.
“I’m going to wear my lucky orange tie for maybe the rest of the month until we play in that orange bowl,” Montgomery said. “I thought our guys fed off the crowd. They came out passionate, hungry, attacking and you know, we needed it.”
That passion and hunger took the form of the largest scoring first half for the Huskies on the season, in large part due to the play of freshman forward Sam Mader and junior forward Aksel Bolin.
Both big-men paced the Huskies in the first half with eight points a piece. They connected for several smooth plays where Mader made quick, accurate passes to find Bolin for easy lay-ups.
“For a big guy I’ve always had pretty good vision,” Mader said. “But when I attack the basket, instead of planting for the shot, I saw ‘Aks’ cutting to the basket, so I tried to dump it off to him to get a better look.”
The Cougars were led by senior forward Jerome Jones and sophomore guard Kris Davis, who scored 19 and 16 points, respectively.
The Cougars attempted a come-back in the second half, getting as close as two just a half minute into the half. The score remained as close as six thanks to the 3-point shooting ability of the Cougars, led by Davis and Jones who hit 11 3-pointers on the night.
At the 5:24 mark, Bolin hit a 3-pointer to put the Huskies up by nine, where they coasted the rest of the way with the Cougar starters showing signs of fatigue and the bench players failing to produce.
The Cougars bench struggled all night, failing to register a point. Their struggles were epitomized very early in the game when junior forward Tim Johnson got a steal and had an open court for a fastbreak. Johnson attempted to put an exclamation point on his finish by dunking the ball, but was instead blocked by the rim, which led to four straight Huskie points.
“Right now we don’t really have a deep bench,” said SIUE coach Lennox Forrester. “Guys coming off the bench have to be able to produce for us. I tell the guys, by the time you sub out if you’re not a plus, you haven’t done your job.”
Despite the game being close in spurts, NIU did what was necessary on both ends when the situation demanded it, and Montgomery took notice of both the effort and the overall result.
“We had to answer the bell in the second half because they made a heck of a charge,” Montgomery said. “And then we took back off, which was good to see. It was good to get out of the 40s. 65 is fun, it’s just fun.”