Freshman Levi Bradley added 14 points and a team-best seven rebounds while sophomore Marin Maric chipped in 12 points.
“I can’t say we played great in the first half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Central Michigan came out and punched . . .
“We shared the basketball, we got out in transition and it was a typical MAC game. It seems like every MAC game is a five-point game. I just thought we made a few more plays, especially down the stretch, to win the game.”
After Central Michigan shot 53.6 percent (15-of-28) from the field in the first half to gain a 41-34 halftime lead, the Huskies held the Chippewas to just 31.8 pecent (7-of-22) shooting in the second half, outscoring CMU 41-29 in the second 20 minutes.
NIU trailed by 14 entering the final three minutes of the first stanza until the Huskies closed the half with an 8-1 run to cut the Central Michigan lead to just seven at the break. Baker opened the run with a free-throw, junior Aaric Armstead added a basket off glass, Maric made a layup and Baker closed the half with a triple from the wing.
The Huskies continued their momentum to start the second half, opening with an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead, 42-41. Baker drove to the basket for a layup to open the second in the second half and Maric scored the next six to give NIU the lead with 16:38 left.
Central Michigan (9-9, 2-3 MAC) slowed down the Huskie attack and the teams traded leads until an old-fashioned three-point play from Bradley put the Huskies back in front, 48-47, with 14:33 left.
After Central Michigan missed the front end of a one-and-one, freshman Marshawn Wilson made back-to-back baskets to spark an 11-3 run that gave the Huskies a 59-50 lead just before the midway point of the half. Bradley and Baker both made buckets during the run and Wilson capped it with a triple to give NIU the nine-point edge.
The Chippewas responded, scoring the next seven to trim the NIU lead to just a pair, 59-57, and would pull even two minutes later, 62-62.
After another basket from Baker and a pair of free throws by Central Michigan evened the game again, 64-64, NIU took control in the final three minutes, using a 9-0 run to take a 73-64 lead with 18 seconds to play.
Maric started the burst for the Huskies, Baker and junior Michael Orris each added a pair and senior Chuks Iroegbu scored two from the charity stripe as the Huskies claimed their 12th home win of the season, and 14th home win overall.
NIU shot 57.1 percent (16-of-28) from the field in the second half.
Chris Fowler led Central Michigan with 16 points, Rayshawn Simmons added 14 and Braylon Rayson chipped in 11 points.
In the first half, NIU led 13-11 with 11:27 to play in the first half until a 15-3 run by Central Michigan gave the Chippewas a 10-point lead, 26-16, with 8:22 left before the intermission.
A driving layup by Iroegbu ended the Chippewa run and a basket by freshman Laytwan Porter (Rockford, Ill./Auburn) cut the Central Michigan lead to just seven, 27-20, but CMU answered with back-to-back triples to push the lead to 33-20 with just over six minutes to play before the half.
The Huskies answered right back with trifectas from Baker and Bradley before Central Michigan scored the next seven to take the 14-point lead, 40-26.
The Huskies will return to action on Friday night, Jan. 22, as they host Toledo at the NIU Convocation Center at 5:30 p.m., in a game that will be televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network. Central Michigan hosts Ohio Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET).
(Courtesy of NIU Athletics)