The Northern Illinois Huskies snapped a five game losing streak by beating the University of Akron men’s basketball team on Saturday, 80-79, in DeKalb, Illinois. The Huskies also ended a seven game Zips winning streak.
The loss gave the Zips a 20-5 record overall with a 9-3 conference record while Northern Illinois improved to 17-8 and 6-6 in the MAC.
Northern Illinois won despite another excellent game from the Akron bench. After sitting out Tuesdays game at Bowling Green, freshman Josh Williams made six 3-pointers to total 22 points. Williams has now scored at least 20 points in each of his last three games played. Big man Isaiah Johnson also came off the bench to score 16 points, while grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots. Johnson was injured in Tuesdays game, but his return wasn’t quite enough to get it done.
The game was a back-and-forth affair nearly all game, and Northern Illinois found themselves with a 71-68 lead with under five minutes left. Noah Robotham then tied the game with 4:53 to play, and then the defense picked it up to create one of the most exciting finishes to a game this season.
Following Robothams’ game-tying shot, the game went scoreless for the next 2:33, when the Huskies’ Aaric Armstead finished with an electrifying putback dunk to retake the lead. After a pair of Huskies free throws, Akron’s Williams took a Robotham pass and hit from deep to get back to within one point. Johnson would make one free throw on the next possession, and Williams added two more on the next trip to give the road team a 77-75 lead with 56 seconds to play.
After Travon Booker missed a 3-pointer, Armstead grabbed a rebound and put it up and in while being fouled. Armstead would make the free throw to go up one with 37 seconds left. The Zips needed to score, and they did just that on a pair of Johnson free throws. Johnson would finish 8-11 on the night from the charity stripe.
The Huskies came right back, and Baker tried another deep ball. Baker’s shot missed, but the rebound went out of bounds off Akron’s Kwan Cheatham Jr. Armstead was then fouled, and made a pair of clutch free throws to give the home team a one point lead with 1.7 seconds left. The Zips would get one more chance, when Reggie McAdams’ pass from the baseline found Johnson near halfcourt. However, Johnson couldn’t convert, as he lost the ball on a play that could have been called a foul. The non-call sent Zips’ head coach Keith Dambrot into a frenzy, but the game had been decided.
The game was very close all game, with the Zips’ biggest lead coming on a big run from the end of the first half into the second half. Antino Jackson made a 3-pointer to end the half with an Akron lead of 41-40, and that shot started a 20-10 Akron run. McAdams started the half with three straight 3-pointers, then later got six straight points from Johnson. However, the Zips couldn’t put away the Huskies like they did on January 26th when Akron beat Northern Illinois at Rhodes Arena.
A big factor was the excellent duo of Armstead and sophomore Croatian Marin Maric. Armstead finished with 21 points to go along with eight rebounds and three 3-pointers. Maric finished with a double-double, scoring 17 points with 11 rebounds and two 3-pointers of his own. It was a big turnaround from the last time the two teams played, when Armstead was held to ten points while Maric totaled only five points and six rebounds. Finally, Laytwan Porter came off the bench with an all-around good game. Porter finished with ten points, four rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
Additionally for the Zips, Robotham made three 3-pointers to total 11 points. McAdams made the three deep balls to score nine points while also pulling in five rebounds. Finally, seniors Jake Kretzer and Pat Forsythe had six points, Jackson scored five, and Cheatham Jr. added four points.
Akron now has a two-game lead over all MAC teams. The Zips are now 9-3 while Ohio, Kent State, Buffalo, Ball State, and Toledo are all 7-5. The top four teams in the conference will receive a bye in the MAC tournament, which begins March 8th.
The Zips have a big week ahead of them, as the host Buffalo on Tuesday at 7 p.m., then travel to play Kent State on Friday.