NIU men’s basketball: Huskies come up short against Central Michigan Chippewas

By Steve Shonder

What happened

Men’s basketball (10-14, 4-9 MAC) fell to the Central Michigan Chippewas (19-5, 9-4 MAC), 68-66, Wednesday in Mount Pleasant, Mich. The Huskies remain slated for the No. 10 seed out of 12 teams in the MAC Tournament.

How it happened

In what’s becoming the story of the season, the Huskies hung around until the final minutes of the game only to come up short. Sophomore Aaric Armstead hit a 3-pointer in transition to cut the Chippewas’ lead to one at 64-63, and after Central Michigan came back to up its lead to three, junior Travon Baker hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game. Chippewas’ junior Chris Fowler tried an awkward 3-pointer that went off the rim, leading to Central Michigan junior Austin Stewart going over redshirt senior Jordan Threloff to get the tip in and put the Chippewas back up, 68-66, with 3.7 seconds left. Baker tried to go the length of the court on the inbounds, but his layup couldn’t find the bottom of the basket.

The Chippewas lived by the 3-pointer, especially in the first half, as they exploded for 40 first-half points. A lot of those 3-pointers came as a result of a strong inside-out game and open shots in transition. During the opening eight minutes the Huskies turned over the ball 12 times.

The Huskies had four players score in double-digits. Armstead scored 19. Baker scored 11. Redshirt senior Anthony Johnson scored 12, 10 of which came in the first half. Threloff recorded his second-straight double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

The number: 21

That’s the number of fouls the Huskies racked up, as the officials called a tight game. NIU had three players — senior Aaron Armstead, Aaric Armstead and Baker — with four fouls each.

Northern Star players of the game

Central Michigan sophomore Braylon Rayson shot lights out from beyond the 3-point line on his way to a game-high 23 points. Rayson went 7-9 from beyond the arc, including a perfect 5-5 stretch in the first half.

Aaric Armstead came up strong for the Huskies late in the game despite playing with four fouls. He hit a 3-pointer to bring NIU to within one, and he put together a run where he scored seven-straight points to help keep the Huskies in the game. He finished with a team-high 19 points.

Injury notes

Junior Darrell Bowie is still “day-to-day” after re-aggravating his shoulder injury from earlier this season, but head coach Mark Montgomery said it’s possible Bowie could be out for the season.

Redshirt freshman Marin Maric, who has an ankle injury and the flu, could be ready for Saturday’s game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles.

The quotes

“I just like that our guys are competing and paying hard,” Montgomery said. “Our guys are very resilient. If we keep practicing hard, listening to our coaches, we’ll start winning these close games.”

“With officiating, you just want it to be consistent,” Montgomery said. “You have to adjust to the officials, but it’s a tough game for them to call. We just had too many guys with four fouls, and we had to play on eggshells.”

“In the first half, we were playing in gaps,” Montgomery said. “We just have to get back to their shooter faster. Central Michigan takes a lot of triples; they took 31. They live and die on that 3. And tonight they made 13.”