Timely free throws ward off RedHawks comeback

NIU notches second MAC win in three games


Jake Ruffer | The Miami Student

NIU sophomore guard David Coit attempts a three-point jump shot over Miami University senior forward Anderson Mirambeaux in the second half of NIU’s 81-77 win Tuesday. (Jake Ruffer | The Miami Student)

By Skyler Kisellus and Zachary Bertram

At a glance

  • Huskies earn first road win of MAC play
  • NIU defeats Miami-Ohio for first time since 2020
  • NIU jumps from No. 11 to No. 8 in league standings shakeup

Leading by one possession over league rival Miami University, NIU senior guard Darweshi Hunter was perfect on four attempts from the free-throw line in the final seconds of Tuesday’s Mid-American Conference battle to push the Huskies to an 81-77 victory on the road.

Having been on the losing side of its past five matchups with Miami (7-11, 1-4 MAC), the NIU men’s basketball team (6-12, 2-3 MAC) tallied its first MAC road win of the season to help move the team up three spots in the conference standings from No. 11 to No. 8. The Huskies’ winning efforts were led by a quartet of double-digit scoring efforts.

Sophomore guard David Coit led NIU scorers with 21 points on the night on 9-of-15 field goal shooting. A huge portion of the Huskies’ success from three-point land came from Coit and senior guard Kaleb Thornton, who each made three triples. Thornton added on five rebounds, three assists and three steals to go along with his hot three-point shooting. Both guards played all forty minutes of the game.

“Tonight’s win was very big, that’s because it was our first one (conference win) on the road,” Nutter said. “We all came together to get it done and like I said it was a great team win.”

Huskies nix Miami woes, banish pesky Ohio foes

Heading into Tuesday’s matchup, NIU had not defeated the RedHawks since the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. In their last win, then-senior guard Eugene German led the Huskies with 21 points in a 70-55 victory on Feb. 1, 2020.

After losing two heartbreakers to the RedHawks last season, the Huskies were able to flip the script and win a tightly contested battle vs Miami.

The two latest losses in NIU’s five-game skid against Miami proved to be heartbreakers. Both games, which took place last season, ended with last-second scoring by Miami to swing the games in the RedHawks’ favor.

“Don’t think that moment didn’t go through my head,” NIU men’s basketball head coach Rashon Burno said in a postgame interview with Bill Baker and Rodney Davis on Huskie Sports Radio Network. “Like ‘here we go again.’ But this is a different team. These guys stepped up and they made the right plays.”

Tuesday’s win was a meaningful one for Thornton, who had yet to witness an NIU victory over Miami in his three years on the team.

“I’ve been at NIU for three years and this is my first win against Miami of Ohio, let alone in Oxford,” Thornton said. “They’re a really good team and I hope to see them again pretty soon…Once again, I want to come out on top. I want to go 2-0.”

Safford rallies the RedHawks

Holding its largest lead of the first half with five minutes left at 32-21, NIU watched as Miami went on a 19-7 run to end the half. Miami redshirt junior guard Morgan Safford spearheaded the RedHawks’ comeback efforts with 14 points by halftime – nine coming off three-pointers.

A foul against Hunter sent Miami sophomore guard Julian Lewis to the free-throw line. The ensuing pair of makes gave the RedHawks a 40-39 halftime lead, their first lead since the game’s opening minute.

“When we were coming out of the halftime, we were saying first four minutes, first four minutes is the most important. So we came out and tried to push it (the lead) back to where it was,” Thornton said.

Despite Miami’s hot shooting to end the first half, the Huskies played some stifling defense, racking up seven first half steals. Redshirt senior Anthony Crump highlighted NIU’s first half defense, swiping three steals.

Coit led the team with 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the field by halftime. Thornton was near-perfect from three-point land after making three of his four three-point attempts.

NIU polishes paint play in second half surge

The Huskies jumped back into the frontrunner spot with a Thornton layup to kick off the second half. NIU used a balanced scoring attack to regain control of the game after a brief lead from Miami.

Despite being outsized by the RedHawks, the Huskies were able to dominate the inside in the second half, scoring 26 points in the paint.

Sophomore guard Zarique Nutter helped the Huskies get going, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the final 20 minutes, while adding eight rebounds.

With 5:52 remaining in the second half, Coit made a layup to extend the NIU lead to 71-59, its largest of the game. But fueled by Safford and fifth-year guard Mekhi Lairy, the Redhawks cut the deficit down to two points twice in the final minute.

Trailing on the scoreboard and battling the clock, Miami elected to foul both times they cut the lead to two, which allowed Hunter to knock down four straight clutch free throws.

“His (Hunter’s) goal, and I’ve always told him, is just to stay ready,” Burno said. “And you try to tell your kids, especially guys who aren’t starters, and in this generation, your time is coming in time, just be ready, be ready.”

Tuesday’s result, compounded with losses by Ohio University and Eastern Michigan University in their respective games, allowed the Huskies to make the jump to No. 8 in the league leaderboard. NIU will have an opportunity to return to .500 in conference play with a road win over Eastern Michigan.

Tip-off for NIU-EMU is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at George Gervin GameAbove Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The game will be streamed on ESPN3 with live statistics presented by SIDEARM Sports.