Sophomore Jaylen Key recorded his third career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Marin just missed a double-double with a team-high 17 points and nine rebounds. Senior Dontel Highsmith scored 16 points and sophomore Laytwan Porter also had 16 points to go along with a team-high four assists.
"I thought for 35 minutes we . . .
The Huskies then scored the first seven points to open the second half as Maric opened with a short jumper, Highsmith added a corner triple and Key added a basket as the Huskie advantage ballooned to 42-28 just over two minutes into the second stanza.
NIU still led by 14 when a layup from freshman Eugene German pushed the Huskie advantage to 16, 52-36, with 13:40 to play. Central Michigan split a pair of free throws before German went 2-of-2 from the charity stripe as the lead grew to 17.
The Huskies shot 51.6 percent (16-of-31) from the field in the second half.
Central Michigan (10-5, 0-2 MAC) cut the NIU advantage back to just 11 with 7:05 left, but four-straight points from Maric pushed the Huskie lead to 70-55 with a little over six minutes to play.
The lead was cut to 11 again before a layup from Highsmith, a tip-in from Highsmith and a jumper from Key extended the NIU lead to 77-60 with 3:18 left before the Chippewas began their furious rally.
David DiLeo hit back-to-back triples, sandwiched around a Huskie turnover, to cut the lead to 11 with 2:38 to play. An old-fashioned three-point play with 1:49 left trimmed the NIU lead to single-digits, 79-70, until Porter pushed the lead back to 10 with a free throw. Braylon Rayson answered with a triple for Central Michigan to cut the NIU lead to just seven.
The Huskies led by eight when Rayson went to the line and made a pair with 25 seconds to play, trimming the NIU lead to 84-78.
Two more free throws brought Central Michigan within four, but freshman Justin Thomas then made a pair from the line as the lead went back to a half-dozen with 24 seconds left.
Rayson cut that lead in half with a triple with five seconds to play, but sophomore Levi Bradley sealed the win with a free throw with 0.9 seconds left as the Huskies earned the victory in their conference home opener.
Rayson finished with 29 points to lead all scorers, DiLeo added 22 points and Marcus Keene, the nation's leading scorer --averaging more than 30 points per contest -- was held to just 14 points.
In the first half, Central Michigan led 20-19 until Key made a pair of free throws with just over six minutes to play before intermission. The free throws ignited a 6-0 burst as Porter made a driving layup and Armstead converted a pair from the line as NIU took a 25-20 lead.
The Chippewas trimmed the lead back to just one before back-to-back layups from Thomas and Porter brought the lead right back to five, 29-24.
Still leading by five with less than a second to play before the break, Porter was fouled and made a pair at the line to give the Huskies a 35-28 advantage at the break.
NIU will return to the road for the next two games as the Huskies travel to Kent State on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET) before visiting Bowling Green on Saturday (Noon ET). Central Michigan will host Akron Tuesday and Toledo Friday night (7 p.m. ET).
(Courtesy of NIU Athletics)