Men’s basketball drops seventh in eight games with loss

James Krause

DeKALB — Men’s basketball closed the season’s home schedule with a loss, falling 75-69 to the Eastern Michigan Eagles Saturday.

The Eagles were too much for the Huskies on the glass, with EMU out-rebounding NIU 45-26.

The Huskies fell to 6-10 in Mid-American Conference play despite scoring 27 points off 18 EMU turnovers.

EMU senior center James Thompson IV finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Junior center Boubacar Toure was equally effective on the boards with 16 rebounds and 12 points.

Head Coach Mark Montgomery said the definitive blow to the Huskies’ efforts was giving up 19 offensive rebounds.

“[When you] give up 19 extra offensive rebounds, it’s awfully hard to win that way,” Montgomery said.

The Eagles shot 23-28 from the free throw line, including 9-9 from senior guard Paul Jackson. Jackson finished with a team-high 19 points and six assists.

Montgomery said the pressure on the defensive end gave NIU scoring opportunities on the fast break.

“We had unbelievable ball pressure, and we had them turning the ball over,” Montgomery said. “[When you score] 27 points off turnovers, normally you win. The free-throw differential didn’t help things, but at times our defense was very good.”

Junior guard Eugene German led the Huskies in scoring with a game-high 22 points. Senior forward Levi Bradley scored 14 in his 127th consecutive game played with NIU, breaking the school record previously held by Travon Baker.

Bradley said game 127 felt like game one to him.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Bradley said. “It doesn’t feel like [game 127]. It still feels like I’m a [first-year] a little bit. [Baker] texted me this morning congratulating me, telling me I’ve got a lot left in the tank.”

Related: Huskies snap six-game losing skid with win over Western Michigan

Bradley and James found themselves on the bench early after picking up two fouls and playing only four minutes in the first half. Sophomore guard Rod Henry-Hayes also picked up two fouls, playing only five minutes.

The absence of the big men gave German and the other guards a chance to get NIU rolling early.

German scored the first seven points for the Huskies and knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 14 with 11:26 left in the half. Senior guard Dante Thorpe went on a 7-0 run to put NIU up by eight midway through the first half.

Despite running a smaller lineup, the Huskies only trailed EMU 38-36 at halftime, following a pair of free throws from Jackson.

German said the first half was a challenge for the team, but efforts from role players like first-year forward Austin Richie and junior forward Noah McCarty helped the team keep up.

“I feel like we did pretty good,” German said. “We were trying to get in there and rebound with 6-foot 10-[inch] and 7-foot tall guys. [Richie] came in and gave us great effort off the bench. [McCarty] came in and gave us great effort as well.”

Bradley made an immediate impact out of the break, tying the game 38-38 with a dunk to start the second half.

The Huskies took the lead with an 8-0 run to start the half with baskets from Thorpe, McCarty and Henry-Hayes. NIU led by as many as eight in the second half.

EMU worked to turn the tide and brought the game to 53-53 with 9:48 remaining, thanks to a sophomore forward Ty Groce layup.

Henry-Hayes put NIU back out front with a fastbreak score and a free throw to go up 59-56 with 7:22 remaining.

The Eagles went up 60-59 after a Jackson mid-range shot and didn’t give the lead up for the remaining 6:16. Jackson helped put the Huskies away by getting to the free-throw line and scoring at the basket often.

Jackson would score 11 points in the final 5:38 with the Huskies coming up short on too many defensive possessions.

“Late in the game it seemed we couldn’t get the one or two stops we needed,” Montgomery said. “We just came up a little short, and it’s unfortunate on senior day.”

EMU moves to 8-8 in MAC play with a 14-15 record overall. NIU’s 6-10 conference record ties them with Ball State for the ninth spot in the conference, one game back of Akron and Miami.

If NIU wins their final two games and either Miami or Akron lose their last two, the Huskies would move to eighth and would host an opening round match in the MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The first opportunity for one of those two wins needed to get a home-court advantage comes 6 p.m. Tuesday on the road against the Central Michigan Chippewas.