The Huskies led the majority of the way, but held off a late run by the Zips to improve to 8-8 overall, 2-3 in Mid-American Conference play. Sophomore Aaric Armstead added 11 points while redshirt freshman Marin Maric added eight points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Akron, which fell to 12-6 (3-2 MAC) was paced by Kwan Cheatham Jr. with 13 points. Deji Ibitayo was the only other Zip in double figures. He chipped in 10.
NIU shot 51.2 percent (21-of-41) in the contest while holding Akron to just 36.7 percent (22-of-60) shooting.
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“Give Akron a lot of credit, they are the program everyone looks up to (in the MAC) and it is a big one when you get them at your place.
“We needed this win for confidence,” Mongtomery said. “We needed it to get back in the western division race. Winning was the most important thing to our guys today, and we found a way, no matter what lineup we had in there, to close it out. I’m very proud of our guys.”
NIU led the entire first half, taking a seven-point lead into the intermission. Akron, however, pulled in front for the first time, 39-37, on a triple by Cheatham with 14:10 to play.
Two possessions later, the Huskies answered with a jumper by Baker to even the contest and, with 12:10 left, Baker knocked down another jumper to push the Huskies back in front, 41-39.
The back-to-back jumpers by Baker ignited a 9-0 run for the Huskies as Aaric Armstead added a dunk and Baker netted three from the free-throw line. NIU owned a seven-point advantage, 46-39, with 11:08 to play.
Akron (12-6, 3-2 MAC) trimmed the NIU lead to four, 48-44, with 8:23 left before a 6-0 Huskie burst pushed the lead back to double-digits, 54-44, and forced a timeout by the Zips.
Maric opened the run with a pair of free throws before Aaric Armstead added a jumper and a jam to give the Huskies a 10-point lead with 6:33 remaining.
The Zips responded with the next seven as they cut the NIU lead to three, 54-51, with 4:27 left in the contest.
NIU and Akron traded the next 10 points and then both offenses came up empty on consecutive possessions as the NIU lead remained at three with less than 90 seconds to play.
A layup by redshirt senior Anthony Johnson broke the scoring drought and pushed the NIU lead to five, 61-56, with 1:18 left.
Akron split a pair of free throws to trim the lead to four with just over a minute to play. It then forced a turnover and had a chance to cut it to a one-possession game, but the Huskie defense came up with a stop and Baker iced the game with three free throws in the final seconds.
NIU raced to a nine-point lead inside the opening six minutes of the contest. Five different Huskies scored as NIU took an early 11-2 lead. The Huskie lead grew to 10, but Akron used an 11-1 run of its own to even the contest, 18-18, with 6:26 to play in the opening 20 minutes.
From that point, the Huskies closed the first half with a 15-8 burst to take a seven-point lead, 33-26, into the break.
NIU will return to action on Saturday (4 p.m. ET) as the Huskies host Miami (Ohio) at the NIU Convocation Center. Akron is at Western Michigan (2 p.m. ET).
(Courtesy of NIU Athletics/MRO Edit)