Dec. 20, 2011
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DEKALB, Ill. -- The Northern Illinois men’s basketball team led by one with nine minutes to play, but was unable to hang on as it fell to Valparaiso, 59-48, on Tuesday night at the NIU Convocation Center. Freshman wing Abdel Nader (Skokie, Ill./Niles North) led the Huskies with 12 points.
“I thought we played our best half of basketball in the first half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We got up by seven, we were sharing the ball, we were getting good drives and we were in a great offensive rhythm. In the second half, their zone slowed us up a little bit and we started turning the ball over and forcing some shots.”
Freshmen forward Keith Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy) scored nine points and grabbed a career-best seven rebounds.
Valparaiso scored the first four points of the game before a 9-0 run gave NIU a five-point lead with 15:37 to play. Nader scored five during the early run for the Huskies.
A free throw from Keith Gray gave NIU a 14-9 lead before back-to-back triples by the Crusaders gave Valparaiso a 15-14 lead just past the midway point of the first half. The Huskies responded with a pair of free throws by freshman guard Zach Miller (Chicago, Ill./Glenbard East) and a layup by freshman forward Kevin Gray (Chicago, Ill./Brooks Academy), off a feed from Miller, to take a three-point advantage.
Miller finished with a career-high six assists.
After a bucket by Valparaiso trimmed the NIU lead to one, 18-17, sophomore guard Aksel Bolin (Asker, Norway/Asker) connected on consecutive possessions for the Huskies and freshman forward Jeremiah Jackson (Chicago, Ill./Warren Township) made a pair of free throws, giving NIU a 24-17 lead with 4:56 remaining before the break.
Valparaiso used an 8-4 burst to cut the NIU advantage to three, 28-25, at the half.
Keith Gray led the Huskies with seven points in the opening 20 minutes; Ryan Broekhoff led all scorers with nine for the Crusaders. NIU shot 40 percent (10-of-25) in the opening half while Valparaiso shot 39.1 percent (9-of-23). The difference in the first half was NIU’s seven made free throws to four by Valparasio.
Valparaiso cut the NIU lead to just one, 30-29, early in the second half before back-to-back baskets by Nader and Keith Gray pushed the Huskie lead back to five, 34-29.
With NIU leading by a half-dozen, Valparaiso used a 7-0 run to take a 38-37 lead with 10:39 remaining in the contest. A basket by senior forward Tim Toler (Indianapolis, Ind./Avon/Danville Area CC) gave the lead back to the Huskies, but the Crusaders then used a 14-3 run to take a 52-42 lead with just over four minutes to play.
Northern Illinois cut the Valparaiso lead back to as little as six, 54-48, after triples by Toler and freshman guard Stian Berg (Baerum, Norway/Norges Toppidretts Gymnas), but the Crusaders made seven-of-eight free throws down the stretch to help preserve the victory.
Valparaiso went 16-of-19 from the free-throw line in the contest; NIU was 7-of-9 from the charity stripe and did not shoot a free throw in the second half.
Broekhoff scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Valparaiso; Will Bogan added 18 points for the Crusaders.
Northern Illinois will return to action on Monday, Jan. 2, when the Huskies host Roosevelt University in their first game of 2012 at 7 p.m., at the NIU Convocation Center.