Huskies fall short against the Spartans


Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) is double teamed by Northern Illinois forwards Lacey James (4) and Levi Bradley (42) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

By Khobi Price

No. 8 Michigan State spoiled NIU Head Coach Mark Montgomery’s homecoming to East Lansing when the Spartans defeated the men’s basketball team 88-60 Saturday in the Jack Breslin Student Events Center.

NIU had one of its poorest offensive showings of the season in its final non-conference contest of the 2018-19 season giving the Huskies a 7-6 record heading into conference play..

Michigan State held the Huskies, who entered the game ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage, to season-lows of 33 percent shooting from the field, 19 first half points and 60 total points.

“[They’re] an explosive team,” Montgomery said. “Their defense definitely stymied us in the first half. I know we missed some shots, but they made shots. Sometimes it’s a miss-make game, and they made some shots. I thought we settled down in the second half.”

The Spartans opened the contest with a 12-4 advantage after Michigan State junior guard Cassius Winston knocked down his third 3-pointer of the game with 17:25 left in the first half.

Related: Q & A with Head Coach Montgomery

 NIU answered the Spartan run with senior forward Levi Bradley and junior guard Eugene German layups to bring the deficit down to 12-8.

Michigan State retaliated with 11 unanswered points over a span of nearly four minutes of game time. Bradley, who finished the contest with 13 points and three rebounds on 6-of-18 shooting, made a layup to bring the Huskies’ deficit to 23-10 with 11:17 left in the half.

The Spartans outscored NIU 18-9 in the remainder of the half before Michigan State freshman forward Xavier Tillman knocked down a jumper right before the buzzer to give the Spartans a 43-19 halftime lead.

The Huskies held Michigan State to 40 percent shooting in the first half, but only shot 23.5 percent themselves.

NIU found its offensive rhythm in the second half and nearly played the Spartans to a tie; outscored 45-41. The Huskies went 6-of-15 from beyond the arc in the second half after missing all eight of their 3-point attempts in the opening half.  

German scored a team-high 20 points and nabbed seven rebounds for the game. Senior forward Lacey James contributed nine points and 10 rebounds.

“I enjoyed the opportunity and the build up,” Montgomery said. “Now we can focus on conference play. I know we’re ready for [Mid-American Conference] play. We’re battle tested against high major teams, power five teams and good mid-major teams. We have a week to get ready for Ohio. We’ll go down to Athens very focused and a better team than when we started the season in early October.“

NIU will open MAC play against the Ohio Bobcats 1 p.m. Saturday in Athens, Ohio. The game will be televised on ESPN3.

“If we’re going to be successful, we have to defend and rebound,” Montgomery said. “That’s the first and second thing we have to do. Third, we’ve got to get back to shooting that ball like we shot it before this game. We need to limit our turnovers to under 10 and we got to continue to attack the offensive glass. In conference play, we have to get our free-throw shooting over 70 percent because some of those games are going to come down to free-throws.”