Men’s basketball clinches home MAC tourney game with Senior Day win

By Brian Earle

In its regular season finale on Senior Day, men’s basketball took down Ball State, 70-56, led by a strong defensive performance Saturday at the Convocation Center.

The Huskies (14-16, 8-10 MAC) and Cardinals (5-24, 2-16 MAC) played a tightly contested first half. Each team struggled offensively as they combined for 18 turnovers while the Huskies shot 35 percent from the field compared to the Cardinals’ 43 percent.

The Huskies found themselves trailing by seven, 18-11, with 8:32 remaining in the first half. Over the next three minutes the Huskies went on an 11-2 run to take a 22-20 lead, highlighted by guards Aaric and Aaron Armstead.

Aaric scored five points, including a 3-pointer, while Aaron converted two layups for four points. The Huskies’ run was a result of getting consecutive stops and getting out in transition.

“We play a little more loose and we can get to the basket easier when we’re out in transition,” said coach Mark Montgomery. “… Guys were making aggressive plays.”

The Huskies maintained the lead for the rest of the half and took a narrow 28-27 lead into the locker room. In the second half, it was all NIU, once again led by its defense.

Over an 11-minute period, the Huskies went on a 17-7 run to push their lead to 48-36, while not allowing the Cardinals to make a field goal during that stretch.

“We couldn’t shake Ball State until the second half,” Montgomery said. “[It was a] combination of maybe too many threes we were settling for early in the game. But they took away the inside and in the second half we got out in transition, got some easy baskets, we started getting the ball in the post and I thought that was big.”

From that point on, the Huskies controlled the game, increasing their lead to as much as 16 at four different points. Down the stretch, seniors Aksel Bolin and Antone Christian each received standing ovations as they walked off the court.

“Since I came here my freshman year until now its been a huge change,” Bolin said. “Obviously, winning more games helps a lot with the mood and everything that goes along with it. It was just amazing going off that court tonight with everybody standing up and cheering for you.”

The Huskies were led by wing Darrell Bowie who scored 17 points while shooting 7-10 at the free throw line. NIU got a huge boost from its bench as Aaron Armstead scored 11 while Aaric Armstead and guard J.J. Cravatta each added nine points.

“I thought our bench was exceptional,” Montgomery said. “Anytime you can get 37 points off the bench just shows you how valuable it is, and it’s fun also to make your free throws.”

With the Huskies’ victory, they locked up the No. 7 seed in the MAC Tournament and will host No. 10 seed Bowling Green Falcons at the Convocation Center on Monday at 7 p.m.

In the Huskies’ only matchup with the Falcons this season, they won in a defensive battle, 45-36. The 36 points are the fewest total points the Huskies allowed all season.