NIU men’s basketball: Huskies zap Akron Zips


Sophomore guar Aaric Armstead dribbles down the court Wednesday in the game against the Akron Zips at the Convocation Center. The Huskies improved to 7-1 on their home floor with the 64-61 win.

By Steve Shonder

What happened

Men’s basketball (8-8, 2-3 MAC) held off the Akron Zips (12-6, 3-2 MAC) for a 64-61 conference win Wednesday at the Convocation Center.

How it happened

After trailing for the entire game, the Zips took a 39-37 lead off a 3-pointer by Akron freshman Kwan Cheatham Jr. with 14 minutes to go in the second half. The Huskies responded with a 17-5 run led by eight points from sophomore Aaric Armstead and seven points from junior Travon Baker.

Akron still refused to go away. The Zips cut down the 10-point lead with a 5-0 run before a 3-pointer from senior Aaron Armstead ended that run.

The Huskies couldn’t put the game away until the final seconds when a pair of free throws with four seconds left from Baker closed the book.

The Zips only got to the free throw line 13 times compared to the Huskies’ 28 times, despite having just three fewer fouls than NIU.

The number: 51.2

The Huskies shot 51.2 percent from the field, including 52.2 percent in the first half. The strong shooting from NIU helped fend off a threatening Akron comeback in the final minutes of the second half.

The biggest reason for the strong offensive performance came from good shot selection. The Huskies were able to let the game come to them instead of settling for bad perimeter shots.

Northern Star players of the game

Kwan Cheatham Jr. led the Zips with 13 points. Cheatham hit a key 3-pointer that helped Akron get back into the game. He was the focal point for the Zips’ offense until he fouled out.

Despite leaving the game early with a head injury, Aaric Armstead was a dominant force on offense, scoring 11 points. Eight of his points came during the Huskies’ 17-5 run in the second half.

Baker led all scorers with a career-high 21-points. He went 6-7 on field goal attempts and was 8-10 at the free throw line. He also added five assists.

Whenever the Huskies needed a run, Baker was there to jumpstart the offense by making a shot or getting the ball to a shooter in the lane.

The quotes

The lack of foul trouble “was huge because it kept [the Zips] off the line, and our guys didn’t have to play on egg shells in the first and second half,” said head coach Mark Montgomery. “No one had two fouls at halftime, which was nice. I thought the officials let both teams play, and guys play better when they don’t have to worry about fouls.”

“Every team makes their runs,” Baker said. “We knew they were going to come back. With six minutes [left] they’re down 10. They’re going to fight hard to try to win the game, so we knew we’d win the game on defense. We all wanted to win this game.”

Up next

The Huskies play back-to-back home games for the first time this month when they host the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks 3 p.m. Saturday at the Convocation Center.