TAMPA, Fla. – For the second consecutive game, the Northern Illinois Huskies used defense to spearhead a road win, as the Huskies held South Florida to just 31.5 percent (17-of-54) shooting while downing the Bulls, 59-48, on Tuesday night at the Sun Dome.
Sophomore Levi Bradley led . . .
"When you are on the road, the home team is going to throw some things at you, and we withstood their rally," said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. "I don't think we played great in the first half, but we were only down two, and I knew we would play better in the second half. Aaric Armstead stepped up in the second half, Levi Bradley had a double-double, but like Dontel Highsmith said (in the locker room), it was a team win; everybody contributed.
"It was a good trip. We needed a couple of road wins to get us ready for conference play."
USF (5-5) had a three-point lead before a triple from Wilson evened the game, 10-10, early in the contest. USF answered with the next four before a turnaround jumper in the lane from senior Marin Maric trimmed the Bulls lead to just a pair with 8:48 remaining in the opening half. Maric finished with seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Still leading by a pair, USF used a 6-0 burst to take an eight-point lead, 22-14, with just under six minutes left in the half. NIU answered with the next five on an old-fashioned three-point play from freshman Eugene German and a short jumper from Bradley as the Huskies cut the USF lead back to just three.
Following a free throw from the Bulls, Wilson answered with a trifecta, his second of the half, to bring the Huskies within one, 23-22. Michael Bibby came back with a triple for USF and sophomore Jaylen Key closed the scoring for the half with a bucket for the Huskies. USF took a 26-24 lead into the intermission.
NIU (7-5) held USF to just 35.7 percent (10-of-28) shooting in the first half; Wilson paced the Huskies with eight points in the opening 20 minutes.
An old-fashioned three-point play from freshman Justin Thomas pushed the Huskies in front, 32-31, just over three minutes into the second stanza.
After USF regained the lead, NIU went on a 10-0 run, ignited by baskets from Bradley and senior Dontel Highsmith and capped by a pair of triples from Armstead, as the Huskies took a 43-34 advantage with 13:18 to play.
Armstead finished the night 3-of-3 from behind the three-point line.
The Bulls trimmed the Huskie advantage back to five with the next four points, but Thomas made a driving layup before Key and Wilson each added free throws to push the NIU lead back to nine, 47-38.
NIU led by just a pair after the Bulls scored the next seven, but the Huskies got back-to-back jumpers from Wilson and Armstead as the lead grew back to a half-dozen, 51-45, with under five minutes to play.
USF cut the lead back to four, but the Huskie defense continued to dominate, holding the Bulls without a field goal in the final 6:34 of the contest as NIU pulled off a sweep of its Florida competition.
NIU held USF to just 26.9 percent (7-of-26) shooting in the second half while shooting 45.8 percent (11-of-24) in the final 20 minutes. Bo Zeigler and Bibby each scored 10 points to pace the Bulls.
Following a break for Christmas, NIU will return to action for its final non-conference game on Saturday, Dec. 31, when the Huskies host Illinois-Springfield at the NIU Convocation Center. Game time is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and will be the second game of a doubleheader, with the Huskie women's basketball team opening conference play at 1 p.m.
(Courtesy of NIU Athletics)