GAME NOTES: In the second half of a quick, two-game homestand the UC Riverside Highlanders will play host to the Northern Illinois Huskies at SRC Arena on Sunday.
This contest is the third leg of a four-game road trip for Northern Illinois, which defeated Loyola-Chicago, 55-49, on Wednesday. The Huskies have been trading wins and losses basically all season and are now 4-5 entering play on Sunday. The Huskies wrap up the trip on Dec. 31 with a stern test against No. 17 Iowa State.
Nick Gruninger got a layup to fall with three seconds to play to lift the Highlanders to a 57-56 victory over Illinois-Chicago to start the homestand. The win ended a quick two-game slide for the Highlanders, who have a 4-6 record. UC Riverside ventures upstate to face Sacramento State next.
The Huskies and Highlanders have never met on hardwood prior to Sunday's matchup.
The Huskies only scored 14 points in the first half against Loyola, but came storming back in the second period by shooting 52.2 percent from the floor, including a 5-of-10 performance from beyond the arc. They also held the Ramblers to just six field goals in the final 20 minutes.
Sustaining long stretches of offensive success is not customary for the Huskies. They are only scoring 65.8 points per game and sinking just over 40 percent of their attempts from the field. Northern Illinois does keep its opponents in range though, allowing just 64.3 points per game on 40.8 percent shooting. Darrell Bowie (10.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is the only member of the team scoring in double figures. The Huskies prefer a bit more balance with Jordan Threloff (8.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Dontel Highsmith (7.7 ppg) and Travon Baker (7.2 ppg) also making their presence felt.
After neither team scored for three minutes, UIC got a shot to fall with nine seconds left to give itself a 56-55 lead over UC Riverside. The Highlanders wasted no time in responding as Gruninger took the ball coast-to-coast for the winning shot.
UC Riverside also suffers from lapses in offensive success. The Highlanders are only scoring 65.1 points per game and connecting on 43.3 percent of their attempts from the floor. However, they are just like the Huskies in that they put forth strong showings on defense, letting up just 67.2 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting. Taylor Johnson (14.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Chris Patton (13.2 ppg) give the Highlanders more potent options in terms of scoring. Gruninger (6.8 ppg, 3 apg) is normally not the go-to scorer, but as the primary ball-handler it was no surprise that he had the ball in crunch time against UIC.
This should be another low-scoring affair. Playing at home will certainly help the Highlanders.
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