February 24, 2011

Thomas leads CMU over NIU

DeKALB, Ill. - Jalin Thomas ' career-high 29 points helped Central Michigan to a much-needed road win, 64-58 at Northern Illinois.

After 16 lead changes and nine ties, the Chippewas (9-18, 6-7 MAC) found themselves down five, 58-53, with 5:03 to play, but they rallied to score the game's final 11 points to keep pace with Mid-American Conference West Division foes Ball State and Western Michigan which also won this evening.

The Huskies (7-19, 3-10 MAC) were held scoreless in the final 5:03. A three-pointer by Finis Craddock and a layup by Thomas tied the game at 58 with 3:17 to go, then the Chippewas won it at the line, taking a 60-58 lead with 1:39 left on a pair of free throws by Derek Jackson and stretching their advantage to six by the final buzzer.

The Chippewas overcame two demons in DeKalb, hitting 20-of-29 from the charity stripe for their highest free throw percentage (69.0%) during conference play, and winning on the road for the first time since November 24 at UIC.

"We showed great poise down the stretch," said head coach Ernie Zeigler . "This team grew up a little bit tonight. We were in a situation that we have been in numerous times this season and this time we had the poise we needed across the board to get the job done.

"We made our free throws down the stretch. All these guys are getting in the gym and putting in extra work and we've got young guys who are maturing now. We had contributions from everyone."

Northern Illinois had its largest lead of the game, just a six-point advantage, at the 1:36 mark in the first half, but a pair of free throws by Trey Zeigler and one of Thomas' career-high seven three-pointers brought the Chippewas within one, 34-33, at halftime.

Thomas' 29 points came on 9-of-17 shooting, including 7-of-13 from long range, and a 4-of-6 performance at the line. Zeigler scored 19 on 6-of-14 shooting and 7-of-9 from three-point range.

The only two teams ahead of Central in the MAC West standings, Ball State pulled away from Eastern Michigan, 64-49, and Western Michigan handled Toledo, 68-56, as both improved to 8-5 in MAC play tonight. The Chippewas host Ball State Saturday and Western Michigan will visit McGuirk Arena for the regular-season finale.

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