It’s time for fans to embrace NIU’s men’s basketball team

By Mike Knapp

DeKALB — The men’s basketball team is on one of its hottest runs in years, and the community is beginning to notice.

The Huskies’ six-game winning streak is the longest in Mid-American Conference play in school history. If the season ended today, NIU’s 8-3 record would earn the second seed in the MAC postseason tournament, putting the Huskies in the position to win the tourney and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.

Though the Huskies are still averaging just 961 fans per game in 12 home games this season, the Huskies have had their two largest crowds all year at their last two games in the Convocation Center.

A season-high total of 1,492 fans were in attendance on Feb. 1 when the Huskies defeated Miami University-Ohio 70-55. That was also the game where senior guard Eugene German broke the school’s all-time scoring record and became the first men’s basketball player to eclipse 2,000 career points.

Friday night, in a game that was featured nationally on CBS Sports network, the Huskies beat Kent State University 57-54, with 1,385 fans in attendance. 

With many members of the football team in attendance in the student section, the energy was at its highest level all season.

The players certainly notice.

“The atmosphere here was great,” redshirt senior forward Lacey James said after the Miami game. “We need more fans to come out. They give us a lot of energy.”

The energy in the building begins and ends with the student section and the pep band. The larger the student section has been, and the louder the band plays, the more involved the rest of the crowd gets into the game. 

There are lots of reasons to come out and watch the team play. German is a once-in-a-decade talent who combines speed and a deft shooting touch that is the engine for this team. James is becoming a double-double machine, sophomore guard Darius Beane and first-year guard Tyler Cochran have both become key contributors to the team as the season has progressed. When the team is playing well, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Of course, there are reasons that students can’t make it to the game. Jobs and homework are two things that take priority, but if neither of these things are going on, make it a point to come out to the game. 

This is a special team that is doing special things. Should they take care of business and keep winning games for the next few weeks, they could become one of the more memorable squads in the school’s 120-year basketball history.

While the rest of the schedule is a bit daunting — playing four of their next five games on the road — the Huskies still have three critical home games remaining.

Make it a point to be at Saturday’s game against Central Michigan University. CMU is the team chasing the Huskies in the MAC West standings and beat NIU 68-67 in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. on Jan. 7.

After two more road games, NIU comes back home to play University of Toledo March 3, then hosts Ball State University March 6 for senior night. Both games will have big conference implications, and wins in both games would give the Huskies plenty of momentum heading into the conference tournament March 12 – March 14 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of seats available at the Convo, and if those fill up, they’ll pull out more.