Men's basketball drops second straight, falls out of MAC Tournament bye
March basketball breeds the unexpected, the Mid-American Conference this season has the competitive nature that extrapolates it.
The Central Michigan men's basketball team held the coveted fourth seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament, and needed a win over Northern Illinois to help solidify that position.
That didn't happen.
Instead, the Chippewas (20-10, 9-8 MAC) fell to the Huskies (14-16, 7-10) 89-86 at McGuirk Arena. Their loss, compounded with Kent State's 75-66 over Miami (OH) knocked them out of fourth position with one game remaining.
Head coach Keno Davis has been saying the conference is competitive as it has ever been. The end of the season highlights that competition.
"The difference between whoever is the top seed and the bottom seed isn't that much," Davis said. "I give Northern Illinois all the credit to have the focus and the effort they had to be able to win the game tonight."
CMU was also without starting junior forward Rob Montgomery for the second straight game due to his lingering groin injury.
Montgomery averages 11 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season, his presence was missed throughout the game.
"You're taking out someone who makes an impact offensively, defensively and rebounding," Davis said of Montgomery's absence. "Him not being there puts more of a load where we could have rested a few guys."
In place of Montgomery, junior guard Dallas Morgan made his third consecutive start for CMU. He made his presence felt as he poured in 16 points.
For Morgan, his mindset for this game was simple- consistency and confidence.
"Just come in and do what I know how to do," Morgan said. "I missed a couple key shots that I thought I should've hit, but my teammates still had confidence in me."
How it happened
NIU's star senior winger Levi Bradley opened the scoring with a jumper followed by a senior forward Lacey James dunk to give the Huskies a four point advantage in the first two minutes.
Junior forward David DiLeo then opened CMU's scoring with a tough layup where he had to fight through contact.
DiLeo later hit a triple to give the Chippewas their first lead at 8-6 with just under 13 minutes to play in the first half.
As the first half played on, Roundtree led the way for a 6-2 scoring run where he scored two 3-pointers that gave CMU a 17-11 lead.
The Chippewas saw their biggest lead of the first half grow to seven at 25-18. Their lead was extended by a 3-pointer from Morgan. It was his second triple of the game.
NIU, clad in uniforms that resembled the Chicago Bulls, would not go away. It cut the CMU lead gradually and eventually took the lead back on a free throw from Bradley. He would then hit a triple on the next trip to extend the lead to 31-27.
DiLeo put the Chippewas back on top with a 3-pointer from the right wing. The Iowa City, Iowa native would hit another 3-pointer with less than a minute to play in the opening half. It gave his team a 40-37 lead at the halftime intermission.
The second half started hot for the Chippewas. Morgan connected from beyond the arc in the first two trips, then Roundtree buried a third straight.
Roundtree finished the game with a team-high 23 points. DiLeo scored 17, Austin finished with 19.
The Huskies went on a scoring run of their own, they went on a 8-0 run spanning two minutes. It tied the game at 49 apiece and it was capped off by a fast-break dunk from junior guard Eugene German.
The Chippewas would take a five-point lead at 54-49 on free throws from Roundtree. The Huskies would then make a 5-0 run that lasted just over three minutes and was capped by a short jump shot make by Bradley.
From that point, neither team carried more than a four point lead for the middle portions of the second half. NIU led by four at 65-61 with just over seven minutes to play.
With exactly six minutes to play in the second half, German hit a triple straight on to extend the NIU lead to 70-65.
Bradley would end the contest with a game-high 26 points, most prominently he shot 13-14 from the free throw line.
CMU had a response, however.
Austin started a sequence that cut the NIU lead in half with a drive and score. Beachler then stole the ensuing inbound pass and translated it to a layup to give CMU four points in two seconds.
As the intensity somehow continued to rise, Austin cut the Chippewa deficit to one point with a free throw to make the score 83-82 with 18 seconds to play.
One point would be as close as the Chippewas would come as a half-court heave at the buzzer hit nothing but back board.
The Chippewas will hit the road to rival Western Michigan for the final game of the regular season on March 8 at 7 p.m. in Read Fieldhouse in Kalamazoo.
Following that, they will either play a first-round game in the MAC tournament or have a first-round bye.