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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

COLUMN: How NIU men’s basketball’s hot start has flamed out

Tim Dodge
After a defensive rebound early in the game, senior forward Harvin Ibarguen (23) navigates around University of Toledo redshirt freshman forward Javan Simmons (1). The Huskies have fallen to 6-12 after starting the season 5-1. (Tim Dodge | Northern Star)

DeKALB – A successful season seemed to be on the horizon when NIU men’s basketball (6-12, 0-6 MAC) jumped out to its best start through six games since 2015 with a 5-1 record. 

After a road win over the DePaul University Blue Demons on Nov. 25 to extend their win streak to five games, the Huskies have won just one game since. 

Highlighted by several second half collapses, key players being in and out of the lineup due to injuries, and a lack of reliable scoring options, the Huskies have dropped eight consecutive games and find themselves in last place in the MAC, still winless in conference play. 


Since their win over DePaul, the Huskies have lost 11 of their last 12 games. In five of those 11 losses, the Huskies have been winning or tied at halftime.

In nine of those 11 losses, the Huskies have been outscored in the second half. In seven of those nine instances, the Huskies have been outscored by double digits in the final frame.

The Huskies have been awful at the free throw line this season, which has led to early leads slipping away late in games. The Huskies allow teams to stay in games by shooting just 66.5% from the free throw line for the season which ranks 11th in the MAC.

In close games, baskets are hard enough to come by down the stretch, so when the opportunity to get “free points” at the line presents itself, you have to take advantage. The Huskies have squandered too many easy scoring opportunities this year in order to be successful.

Of players that have attempted 10 or more free throws on the season, junior guard David Coit and freshman guard Will Lovings-Watts are the only Huskies that have shot over 70% from the free-throw line. 

Having only one or two reliable options at the free-throw line late in games makes it incredibly easy for the opposing defense to force the ball elsewhere and come away with late-game victories.

The inability to rebound the basketball has also been costly for the Huskies. The Huskies have been outrebounded in 10 of their last 11 losses.

In their six conference games, the Huskies have averaged a measly 30.5 rebounds per game, good for last in the MAC. 

More rebounds lead to more possessions and more shot attempts. Constantly being out-rebounded and outshot makes it almost impossible to string together any sort of win streak. A big part of rebounding the ball comes down to effort, the Huskies must crash the glass with more of a purpose if they want to turn their season around. 

Junior guard Zarique Nutter and sophomore forward Xavier Amos are the only Huskies that are averaging over 5 rebounds per game this season. 


Most college basketball teams have to deal with key injuries throughout the course of a season, and it has been no different for the Huskies. 

Senior guard Keshawn Williams, Nutter, sophomore forward Yanic Konan Niederhauser and senior forward Harvin Ibarguen have all missed multiple games this season, making it tough for the team to get into any sort of rhythm. 

Injuries have made this season an uphill battle thus far because bench players have not stepped up when starters have been injured. 

In NIU’s 11 losses since its victory over DePaul, the Huskie bench has been outscored six times. In four of those six games, the bench scored less than 10 points combined. 

Injuries are a part of the game, in order for the Huskies to get back on track they need players to step up when regular rotation players are not playing. They simply have not had enough production off the bench to be a winning team. 

Coit, Nutter and Amos (all starters) are the only Huskies averaging double-digit points this season. No bench players are averaging more than 5 points per game this season. 

With Williams still injured, and Nutter and Konan Niederhauser fresh off returning from injury, the Huskies need scoring help outside of their big three to turn things around and have a competitive MAC season. 

The Huskies will look to earn their first conference victory of the season and their first victory in over a month at 1 p.m. Saturday in Muncie, Indiana against Ball State University (10-9, 2-5 MAC). The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and live stats will be available via SideArm Stats.

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