OXFORD, Ohio – Northern Illinois and Miami were tied at 28 at the half, but the Huskies shot 63.2 percent (12-of-19) after the intermission to run away with a 72-61 conference-opening victory on Wednesday night at Millett Hall. NIU shot 69.2 percent (9-of-13) from behind the 3-point line and 80.8 percent (21-of-26) from the free-throw line in the contest.
The victory was the first for Northern Illinois (3-10, 1-0 MAC) at Miami since Feb. 21, 1981, snapping a streak of 13 consecutive defeats for the Huskies in Oxford.
Junior forward Aksel Bolin led the Huskies with 11 points and five rebounds. Freshman wing Darrell Bowie added 10 points and five rebounds while sophomore wing Abdel Nader chipped in 10 points.
“It was two even teams,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “It was deadlocked at halftime, we both had our runs but I thought this was our best shooting night of the season. We went 9-for-13 (from three), I don’t know if we can go 9-for-13 in practice. We shared the ball, we made some free throws and we finally finished a game.
“It feels good. For a team that didn’t win a road game until the conference tournament last year, I feel really good for our guys, I’m proud of them.”
Bowie scored the first four points of the contest to give NIU an early lead. Miami answered with the next 10, including five on one play as the RedHawks made a layup and NIU was whistled for a flagrant foul. Miami (5-8, 0-1 MAC) made one of the two ensuing free throws and, after also getting the ball, made a basket to take a six-point lead.
Still trailing by six, 13-7, Northern Illinois used an 8-2 burst to tie the contest, 15-15, with 12 minutes to play in the half. Bolin opened the spurt with a triple; freshman forward Sam Mader added a layup and freshman guard Akeem Springs connected on a trifecta to pull the Huskies back even.
After a Springs triple gave NIU a one-point advantage, 20-19, Miami used a 7-0 run to take a 26-20 lead with 6:08 to play in the first half. The Springs triple gave the Huskies a 4-for-4 start from behind the 3-point arc.
Another triple, this time from the corner by Bolin, and an elbow jumper by freshman guard Mike Davis pulled the Huskies back within one, 26-25. A RedHawk basket put Miami back up three before a bucket by Bolin and a free throw from Bowie sent the game to halftime even, 28-28.
Miami’s Reggie Johnson led all scorers with nine points in the opening 20 minutes. Bolin paced the Huskies with eight. The RedHawks shot 52.4 percent (11-of-21) in the first half while holding NIU to just 37.5 percent (9-of-24), but the Huskies went 5-of-7 (71.4 percent) from behind the 3-point arc in the opening stanza.
With the RedHawks leading by a pair, 36-34, five minutes into the second half the Huskies used a 7-0 run to take a 41-36 lead. Sophomore forward Keith Gray opened the run with a basket, Davis added a bucket and Nader capped the run with a triple from the top of the key.
Keith Gray scored nine points in just 12 minutes off the bench for the Huskies. The NIU bench outscored Miami’s reserves, 44-8, in the contest.
Still leading by five, 47-42, freshman guard Travon Baker connected on his first triple of the season to give NIU a 50-42 lead just past the midway point of the season half. Baker answered a Miami basket with a pair of free throws and then, after Miami scored again to cut the lead back to six, Springs and redshirt junior guard Antone Christian made back-to-back trifectas to push the Huskie lead to 58-46 with 8:14 left.
The RedHawks trimmed the lead back to as low as eight, 59-51, with 5:37 to play, but NIU made 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to preserve the road win.
The victory is NIU first conference-opening win since defeating Ball State, 62-48, on the road in the league opener in 2009-10.
The Huskies will return home to host Akron on Saturday, Jan. 12, in their conference home opener. Game time against the Zips is scheduled for 3 p.m., at the NIU Convocation Center.