Kent State eliminates NIU men’s basketball from MAC tournament


Sean Reed

Kent State University redshirt senior guard Malique Jacobs (2) defending NIU sophomore guard David Coit (11) in the second half of the team’s matchup at the MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament Thursday in Cleveland. Coit scored 10 points in the final game of the season for the Huskies. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Ethan Gonzales and Zachary Bertram

CLEVELAND – No. 7 seeded NIU men’s basketball fell to No. 2 seeded Kent State University 76-57 in the opening round of the Mid-American Conference tournament in Cleveland. 

Kent State shut down NIU’s offense for the entirety of the game, forcing the Huskies to shoot an abysmal 37% from the field and 33% from three-point range.

“Kent State won the game on the defensive end,” NIU men’s basketball head coach Rashon Burno said. “We missed some early shots. But what happens when you miss early shots and it’s  in a close game, you got to exert a lot of energy on defense to get those shots.”

The Huskies’ poor shooting bled over onto the defensive side of the ball. Redshirt senior guards Malique Jacobs and Sincere Carry combined for 32 points to lead the Golden Flashes to the win. Five Kent State players finished with double-digit points.

A slow start saw the Huskies scoring just two points in the first five minutes. Kent State jumped out to an early 15-5 advantage. 

“As a point guard, I take a lot of responsibility for that (the slow start),” senior guard Kaleb Thornton said. “I didn’t get my guys going like I should. We’ve done really good at starting fast in the last few games we won, and this was one of our Achilles’ heels this year – starting slow.”

The Huskies recorded 17 turnovers in the loss leading to 28 points off turnovers for the Golden Flashes.

“If we execute a little bit better, we had too many live ball turnovers that got them (Kent State) out (running) early,” Burno said. 

Sophomore guard Zarique Nutter led the Huskies in scoring with 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Junior forward Harvin Ibarguen contributed eight points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies. 

NIU’s season leading scorer sophomore guard David Coit couldn’t find his shot, as he only knocked down one three-pointer. Coit shot 3-for-11 from the field, finishing with 10 points. 


The Huskies found themselves down 31-18 at halftime, shooting just 6-for-27 from the field and 2-for-13 from three-point range in the first half. Kent State shot 42% from the field in the first half. 

“We couldn’t score, that was clear,” Coit said. “KT (Thornton) getting two fouls hurt us – that’s a playmaker. We just talked about me being a point of emphasis, so that makes it kind of tough. We’re kind of out of whack when he (Thornton) comes out of the game. They were loading up on me and making it tough on me.”

Ibarguen and Thornton led NIU in scoring with four points each in the first half. Thornton also struggled in the first 20 minutes, shooting 1-for-5 from the field and recording four turnovers.

Jacobs, the 2022-23 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, led the way for Kent State in the first half, scoring nine points and swiping three steals. Redshirt senior forward Miryne Thomas scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals in the first half. 

Foul trouble was an issue in the first half for the Huskies, as they committed 11 fouls. The Golden Flashes shot 11 free throws as a result of the Huskies’ physical play.

“There were a couple bang-bang calls that were 50-50, but they went in their favor,” Burno said. “There were 10 fouls versus two to start and we’re a pretty aggressive team driving, we just didn’t get a lot of those calls early that put us behind the eight ball.”


The Huskies improved on their poor first half performance, scoring 39 points in the final 20 minutes – more than double their first half total.

Nutter scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half for NIU. Coit added seven of his 10 points in the second half. 

“It’s the same mindset every game,” Coit said. “Let the game come to me, be aggressive, do what I got to do.”

Jacobs continued his strong play in the second half for Kent State, scoring 10 points in the frame. Sophomore center Cli’Ron Hornbeak scored 15 points in the second half. 

“I thought we weren’t a confident bunch when we needed to be in certain points of the game,” Burno said. “You could see it in our body language, you could see it in our full disposition. That’s something that comes with experience, (Sincere) Carry and Kent State, they got all the way to the (MAC) championship game (last season).”


NIU finishes the season with a four-win improvement from the 2021-22 season’s nine wins with a 13-19 record. The Huskies qualified for the MAC tournament despite being projected to finish last in the conference, according to the Mid-American Conference men’s basketball Preseason Coaches Poll.

“I never need acceptance from outsiders,” Burno said. “So I’m not motivated by external polls or anything like that, I don’t live my life that way. I knew we had a good ball club (this season). It’s disappointing because we didn’t have an opportunity to really show that just due to injuries and things like that. We had to reassess and make adjustments.”

Thornton’s face was painted with emotion when reflecting on his 2022-23 season.

“I sometimes struggle with confidence, and I think that I found my confidence this year,” Thornton said. “I found something to play for outside of myself. That’s something that I can tell anybody – just to find something that you want to play for and let that push you. I think that’s what pushed me this year, ultimately. Like I said, I’m blessed and thankful.”

Thornton was appreciative when looking back on his three years with the Huskies. 

“I’m forever indebted to coach Burno and (former) coach (Mark) Montgomery for giving me the opportunity to play here at Northern Illinois,” Thornton said. “I came here and we weren’t really expected to do much, so to see the upward tick we’ve had the past three years I’ve been here, it is bittersweet to get here because it’s something that I wanted to do so bad and I put in my everything to get here.”

NIU will say goodbye to senior guards Darweshi Hunter, Drew Wiemers, Thornton and senior forward Anthony Crump.

“I’m super indebted to the seniors,” Burno said. “I thought they did a phenomenal job in turning the season around.”

The Huskies will enter the offseason in preparation of the 2023-24 season.

“We’re determined that this is not a one-off and we’ll be back here,” Burno said. “As long as I’m the head coach, we’re going to be back here. We’re going to be fighting for MAC championships because that’s the standard.”