Undermanned Huskies drop second straight game to Ball State


Sean Reed

Sophomore guard David Coit attempting to maneuver past CMU’s freshman guard Emil Skytta in the second half of the game on January 10, 2023 at NIU. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Zachary Bertram, Sports Reporter

DeKALB – Ball State University took down NIU men’s basketball Tuesday 87-77, snapping the Huskies four game road win streak. The Cardinals completed a season-series sweep of the shorthanded Huskies, led by a dominant performance from sophomore center Payton Sparks. 

Sparks had a huge night for the Cardinals, scoring 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. He was also a big reason why NIU was in foul trouble throughout the night. Sparks’ aggressiveness contributed to redshirt senior forward Anthony Crump and senior guard Darweshi Hunter both fouling out. Junior forward Harvin Ibarguen finished with four fouls.

“These guys are competitors, coming in knowing we were down a leader in KT (senior guard Kaleb Thornton), guys stepped up,” NIU men’s basketball coach Rashon Burno said. 

NIU came into the game with just 10 of 14 players available. Thronton missed the game with an undisclosed injury, and sophomore guard David Coit battled through an injury in the second half. 

Being plagued by a hamstring injury during the second half did not stop Coit from scoring. Coit finished with a game-high 22 points, while chipping in six assists and four rebounds. Crump finished the game with 16 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with less than five minutes left. Crump was the Huskies’ leading scorer at the time he fouled out. 

Despite being bothered with the hamstring, Coit had to take over almost all of the ball-handling duty due to Thornton being unavailable. 

“It (taking over as primary ball-handler) definitely felt like a lot, but it’s something I’m built for,” Coit said. “I didn’t feel too much pressure, I felt comfortable because of the development from the coaches and what KT has taught me.”


The shorthanded Huskies kept it close in the first half vs the third-ranked team in the Mid-American Conference. The Cardinals held a 43-33 lead at halftime, fueled by an 8-0 run in the final 1:16 of the half. 

“We got worn down, down the stretch of the first half,” Burno said. “That put us in a tough situation being down 10 at half.”

Ball State was led by redshirt junior guard Jarron Coleman, who scored 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting, while also dishing out four assists in the first half. Sparks contributed eight points and six rebounds in the first half. 

The presence of Thornton was sorely missed by the Huskies, as just four players scored in the first half. Coit led the Huskies in the scoring department, with 11 first-half points to go along with three assists. Crump added nine points and six rebounds in the first 20 minutes. 

“It (playing without Thornton) was different. Other than me, he’s our other captain,” Crump said. “He’s always talking to us and calming everybody down, getting everybody in their right spots. He’s a starting point guard for a reason, so if you don’t have him it kind of takes a toll on the team as a whole. But we didn’t let it affect us, we tried to play our hardest for KT.”

Fouling was an issue for NIU in the first half, as they committed 10 personal fouls, which led to nine Ball State free throw attempts. The Huskies attempted just two free throws in the first half, missing both.

“All their guys (Ball State’s players) are aggressive, all their guys are crashing, all their guys are playing hard, so you want to match that,” Coit said. “Hats off to Ball State. They’re a great team, we knew what type of battle it was going to be with KT being out. I just like how my guys fought. We didn’t look like the worst team, it was execution. Execution lost us this game.”


The Huskies continued to battle in the second half, making it difficult for Ball State to pull away. NIU got as close as five points down, with just under five minutes to play. 

Coit scored 11 points in the second half playing through his injury, and kept grinding for his team. 

“Nothing is out of place, nothing is crazy or inflamed, but it was definitely a strain,” Coit said. “I asked him (the team doctor) ‘If I play on it, is it going to pop?’ That’s what I was worried about. He said that it’s not going to pop, it’s just going to hurt. I’m like, ‘I can get through that pain’, me being 22 years young, I was like ‘put me in the game right now, I’m going to go hard.’”

Crump was proud of the way the team played, while missing one of its best players and team leaders. 

“I think we played hard, we played for each other,” Crump said. “We were down our point guard, KT, but we didn’t really let that stop us today. We all gathered around and picked up all our games individually a little bit and played hard until the end.” 

Fouling was still an issue in the second half as the Huskies committed 14 personal fouls, leading to 12 Cardinal free throw attempts. NIU matched Ball State’s second half point total of 44. 

Senior guard Demarius Jacobs was the lead man for Ball State in the second half, scoring 11 points in the final 20 minutes. Jacobs finished with 17 total points on an efficient 6-for-8 shooting night, including 3-for-4 from three-point range. 


After Tuesday’s loss, the Huskies sit at 11-15 overall and 7-6 in conference play. They find themselves in a fifth place tie in the MAC standings with the University of Ohio with just five games left in the regular season. NIU’s next game will be against the University of Miami of Ohio at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Convocation Center.

“We’ll look at film and see what needs improvements, but rest is the best form of recovering physically and mentally,” Burno said. “I’m excited to get these guys off the floor, but then we get back at it on Thursday, and we’ll have a gameplan on how to tackle Saturday.”

The Huskies will look for the season sweep of the RedHawks on Saturday, who are just 2-11 in conference play. The game will be streamed on ESPN3 and will be available to listen to via The Varsity Network.