The Eagles (16-14, 8-9 MAC) closed out the game very strong, holding NIU (19-11, 8-9 MAC) to just two field goals in the final 14 minutes of the Mid-American Conference West Division battle.
With the win, EMU currently holds the No. 8 seed if the MAC Tournament were to begin today. NIU will host a first round MAC Conference Tournament game on Monday, March 7 at 7 p.m. (CT) at the NIU Convocation Center against an opponent to be determined.
Leading the Eagles was sophomore Tim Bond with a stat line of 17 points, six rebounds, four steals and a block. Additionally, freshman . . .
Junior Willie Mangum IV knocked down four triples, finishing with 14 points, while redshirt junior Jodan Price proved to be an asset down the stretch in the second half. Price entered the game following an NIU layup, which gave the Huskies a 15-point lead at the 14:08 mark. From that point on, Northern Illinois was able to convert just two field goals throughout the remainder of the game.
Eastern finished 24-of-56 (42.9 percent) from the floor, also knocking down 22 free throws. The Eagles out-rebounded the Huskies, 36-31, and held a huge 14-7 advantage on the offensive boards as well. The defense came up big in the second half, ultimately forcing Northern into 21 turnovers, eight of which were EMU steals.
“It just seemed like after we got the 15-point lead we tightened up,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “Our first-shot defense was good, but we couldn’t seem to get the rebound. When the lead started shrinking, we couldn’t get a basket.
“Credit Eastern Michigan, they kept playing. You have to keep defending and rebounding. It is a shame, because when you look at the stats it seemed like we outplayed them. Our turnovers hurt us. and we didn’t make a three in the second half. They only made one, but it was the game-winning shot.”
NIU shot 66.7 percent (14-of-21) from the field in the first half but just 34.6 percent (9-of-26) after the intermission.
Leading by four in the early going, Eastern Michigan scored four-straight to push its lead to 14-6 less than five minutes into the contest. Wilson scored the next four points for the Huskies, cutting the EMU lead back to four, 14-10.
After the Eastern Michigan lead grew to nine, the Huskies scored five-straight, including a triple from Wilson, to cut the Eagle lead back to four, 20-16, with just under 11 minutes to play in the opening half.
Wilson went 9-of-12 from the field in the contest, including 5-of-7 from beyond the three-point line.
Eastern Michigan scored the next five as its lead went back to nine, 25-16, until another Wilson triple trimmed the lead back to six, 25-19. The Eagles lead was seven before Wilson knocked down another trifecta and senior Travon Baker made a pair from the line to pull the Huskies within a pair, 31-29, with just under six minutes to play in the half.
NIU trailed by four before a 7-0 burst pushed the Huskies in front. The run opened with a lob from junior Michael Orris to senior Chuks Iroegbu for a dunk, freshman Levi Bradley added a basket and Wilson connected on another three as NIU took a 40-37 lead with 2:05 left before the intermission.
Iroegbu finished with 12 points on 3-of-5 from the field, 6-of-8 from the free-throw line.
A pair of free throws from Wilson and two from the line by Iroegbu helped NIU take a 45-39 lead into the half.
Opening the second 20 minutes, the Huskie lead was still a half-dozen until back-to-back buckets from sophomore Andrew Zelis pushed the NIU advantage to 55-45 with 15:43 left. The Huskies run continued courtesy of an old-fashioned three-point play from Iroegbu and a layup by Baker as the Huskies took a 60-45 lead, forcing a Eastern Michigan timeout.
A 14-1 run by Eastern Michigan then cut the Huskie lead to just a pair, 61-59, with 7:27 remaining.
Freshman Laytwan Porter made a pair of free throws to push the NIU lead to three, 64-61, but Eastern Michigan scored the next four to go back in front, 65-64, with under three minutes to play.
Eastern Michigan led by a pair, but a layup from junior Aaric Armstead evened the contest, 68-68, with just under a minute left.
After the teams traded baskets, Tim Bond knocked down a triple, Eastern Michigan’s only trey of the half, with 3.5 seconds to play. The Eagles made a pair of free throws in the final second to clinch the win.
NIU will return home on Friday (7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT) when the Huskies host Ball State in the regular season finale. The Cardinals are tied for first place in the MAC West with Central Michigan.
Eastern Michigan, meanwhile, will make the trek south to Toledo for a bout with the University of Toledo Rockets, Friday, March 4. Tip-off from Savage Arena is set for 7 p.m. and will decide who will host a first round home game Monday, March 7.
(Courtesy of EMU and NIU Athletics)