Kevin Nelson matched his career-high of 27 points Saturday, leading Central Michigan to a 72-63 Mid-American Conference win over Northern Illinois at Rose Arena.
The Chippewas wore replica uniforms of CMU's 1974-75 MAC Championship team that included future NBA players James McElroy and Dan Roundfield. Nelson put on an offensive display Saturday that would make McElroy proud.
"This was a must win for us," Nelson said. "My teammates were finding me out there. I'm as confident as ever in my shot right now."
With the win, the Chippewas improved their record to 7-7 and 2-4 in the MAC. NIU falls to 6-8 overall and 2-4 in MAC action.
Central Michigan jumped out to an early 6-5 lead following a Nelson jumper, but the Huskies then went on an 18-3 run and led 23-9 with 11:18 remaining in the first half.
The Chippewas battled back though. Trailing 30-19 with 5:14 to go, Nelson keyed a 14-2 CMU run by contributing 10 points, including two 3-pointers. The Chippewas held a 33-32 lead at the break.
"Our turnovers and Central's three-point shooting changed the complexion of the game," NIU head coach Rob Judson said. "CMU runs a great motion game and we knew we'd have to stop Nelson. He can create his own shot and is one of the top four or five scorers in the league."
"The play of Kevin Nelson was huge today," CMU head coach Jay Smith said. "We made the run at the end of the first half with (Tom) Pantlind and (Jeff) Bohnhoff. Tom's motor was running today."
After not scoring in the first half, Pantlind, a fifth year senior, seemed to inspire his teammates with his play in the second half. Trailing 38-33 early on, Pantlind scored the first of his career-high 11 points on a lay-up.
Later, with CMU trailing 51-43 at the 9:57 mark, Pantlind muscled inside for a lay-up and was fouled by NIU center James Hughes. Pantlind made the free throw and the Chippewas had regained the momentum. CMU then used a 9-0 run to take a 55-53 lead with 6:36 remaining, a lead it would never relinquish.
"The main thing for me is to come out and play hard," Pantlind said. "The (Rose) Rowdies supported us well today."
Freshman point guard Giordan Watson turned in another stellar performance, scoring 15 points and dishing out five assists. Watson made 3-of-4 three-point field goals and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.
Guard Mike McKinney led NIU with 16 points followed by guards Anthony Maestranzi with 13 and Cory Sims, 10.
The Chippewas made 43.4 percent of their shots on 23-of-53 while the Huskies made 45.7 percent on 21-of-46 shooting.
Northern Illinois had 19 turnovers compared to 10 for CMU. The Huskies outrebounded the Chippewas, 31-26.
Central Michigan returns to Rose Arena Wednesday night, Jan. 19, against Ohio University. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Nelson Leads CMU in Win Over NIU, 72-63
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