NIU men’s basketball sweeps Kent State, sets school record with six consecutive MAC wins

Sophomore Darius Beane (no.24) drives under the basket Feb. 7 during NIU’s 57-54 win over Kent State University at the Convocation Center.

By Mike Knapp

DeKALB — The men’s basketball team proved it was more than ready for primetime Friday night.

Playing in front of a national audience on CBS Sports Network and one of the more raucous crowds of the season, the Huskies ran their winning streak to six consecutive games when they beat the Kent State University Golden Flashes 57-54.

The winning streak is the longest for NIU in Mid-American Conference history, and the Huskies stand at 15-9 and 8-3 in MAC play, tied with Bowling Green State University for the most wins in the conference.

“It was a well-played game on both sides,” Head Coach Mark Montgomery said. “It was a typical MAC game where it was a one or two-possession game, and I thought our guys were tough.”

After the teams played to a 32-all stalemate in the first half, the second half became a slugfest as both teams could manage just eight points a piece in the first 10 minutes. The Huskies took a 50-44 lead on a jumper by redshirt senior Lacey James with 4:46 to go. 

That was NIU’s high-water mark. 

The Golden Flashes responded with back-to-back triples from junior forward Danny Pippen that tied the game at 50. After senior guard Eugene German scored four straight points to make it a 54-50 game with 1:44 left, the Golden Flashes responded with two straight baskets, the second of which tied the game at 54 on a layup by sophomore guard Anthony Roberts with 55 seconds left. 

Senior guard Eugene German broke the tie on a free-throw with 42 seconds remaining. After a KSU turnover, the Golden Flashes broke out the full-court press and had sophomore guard Trendon Hankerson trapped under the KSU basket. Hankerson stepped between two defenders and fired a pass to first-year guard Tyler Cochran, who took it to the basket for a layup and the final points of the game with 13 seconds left.

That didn’t mean the game was over. Playing for the last shot, the Golden Flashes got a decent look from Pippen behind the 3-point arc, but the ball bounced off the rim and junior guard Gairges Daow gathered in the rebound to finally seal the game for the Huskies.

“It’s the MAC, and the final stretches of the game are always a fight,” James said. “It’s fun, but we’re always ready for it.”

The NIU defense, which ranks in the top 50 nationally in several defensive statistics, was the star of the night, holding a team that scores 75.8 points per game to 19 points below their season average. The Golden Flashes managed to shoot just 37% from the field and 25% from behind the 3-point line. 

Friday was the sixth time on the season the Huskies have held an opponent to fewer than 55 points, and the Golden Flashes were held to less than 55 points for the third time. The only two other times came against Ohio State University and MAC foe Ball State University, NIU’s upcoming opponent on Tuesday night.

“The number one key is defending and rebounding,” Montgomery said. “We held them [below their averages] from the field and from three, and when you do that it always gives you a chance. We’re getting used to close games.”

German led the Huskies with a season-high 27 points, and has scored 73 points in his last three games. German, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer in the win over Miami University–Ohio last Saturday, has made 25 of his 50 shots over that span.

“I’m in a rhythm right now,” German said. “I’ve just been trying to find it for a while. Ever since I hit 2,000 points I’ve been in a rhythm. I’m just going to keep grinding and believing in my teammates and the coaching staff.”

James scored eight points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, while Cochran scored eight points and had six boards for the Huskies.

NIU will head out on the road for games at Ball State and Miami of Ohio. The game with the Cardinals will tip at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Worthen Arena in Muncie, Ind.