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Big Green Come Up Short at Northern Illinois, 64-57

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By Doug Austin
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DeKALB, Ill. — Dartmouth rallied from a 14-point, first-half deficit to take the lead in the second stanza, but host Northern Illinois was able to stave off the comeback bid and defeat the Big Green at the NIU Convocation Center on Thursday night, 64-57. The Huskies (3-4) outscored Dartmouth (3-2) over the final four minutes, 10-3, to earn the victory.

Junior Gabas Maldunas led all players with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting and eight rebounds for Dartmouth, and even scored eight straight points for the Big Green late in the second half. Each of the four times he scored, he gave the Green the lead, the last time when he stole the ball and raced down the court for a finger roll for a 54-52 lead with 4:31 left to play.

But NIU had an answer every time Maldunas scored, tying the game on each ensuing possession. Twice Pete Rakocevic converted layups, then Darrell Bowie rebounded his own miss for the putback, knotting the score at 54.

A Big Green turnover led to a Travon Baker jumper for a 56-54 Huskie lead with 3:31 to play, but Maldunas was fouled at the other end, sending him to the line to shoot one-and-one. Although he missed the front end, sophomore Connor Boehm came up with the offensive rebound, giving Dartmouth a second chance. Junior John Golden got to try his luck at the free throw line, making 1-of-2 to make it a one-point game.

After Bowie and Boehm traded layups, NIU scored the final six points during the last 50 seconds. Jordan Threloff hit a baby hook in the lane with 33 ticks on the clock, and Dartmouth failed to convert at its end. Still there was a slim hope as Aksel Bolin went to the line for the Huskies to shoot one-and-one. Bolin did miss the front end as the Green needed, but Bowie was able to grab the rebound and put the ball back up and in for a five-point lead and just 7.4 seconds to go, sealing the outcome.

Dartmouth looked to be in control for the first 10 minutes of the game on the strength of the inside-out game between Maldunas and sophomore point guard Alex Mitola. Maldunas scored the first four points on a pair of layups, Mitola popped two three-pointers and the duo each had another bucket to provide all of the Big Green points in the early 14-10 lead.

After the Huskies evened the score at 14 apiece, Golden started a 7-0 Big Green run, culminating with a three-point play by Boehm with exactly 10 minutes left in the half. The NIU defense then put the clamps on as Dartmouth failed to score until the final seconds before the break as the Huskies rattled off 21 straight points. Nine of those points came at the free throw line, and J.J. Cravatta provided two triples to highlight the run. Golden finally ended the scoring drought by converting the second of two free throws, and Maldunas took out some frustration on the rim just before the buzzer sounded by turning a steal by sophomore Malik Gill into a two-hand jam, leaving Dartmouth down by 11, 35-24.

The Big Green gradually closed the gap in the second half. A three-pointer by Gill with 13:38 to play whittled the deficit down to four, and another triple by Mitola two minutes later cut it to three at 43-40. Golden then provided a conventional three-point play, followed by a long-range bomb, bringing Dartmouth within one at 47-46. Maldunas then began his personal scoring run, giving the Green its first lead in nearly 20 minutes of action with a pair of free throws.

Northern Illinois finished the game with a distinct advantage at the free throw line, converting 21-of-31 (.677) compared to just 6-of-9 (.667) for Dartmouth. Most of that difference came during the first half as the Huskies outscored the Big Green at the charity stripe, 14-2.

Bowie led NIU with 12 points, half of which came during the final four minutes, while Threloff chipped in 11. The duo also had seven rebounds apiece to pace the Huskies, who outrebounded Dartmouth on the night, 33-31.

Dartmouth was held to a season-low 41.1 percent (23-of-56) from the floor and 27.8 percent (5-of-18) from behind the arc. Mitola and Golden joined Maldunas in double figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Huskies sank 20-of-43 (.465) field goals and 3-of-9 from downtown.

The Big Green continue their Midwest trip on Saturday night when they travel to Fort Wayne to take on IPFW (6-4) at 7 p.m. Next up for NIU is a quick trip to the Northeast to play at 21st-ranked Massachusetts (7-0) on Dec. 14 at 3 p.m.