Huskies lose a thriller to the Akron Zips

By Khobi Price

The men’s basketball team’s late-game rally against Akron fell short, losing to the Zips 67-65 Saturday in a battle between the Mid-American Conference’s most efficient offense and stingiest defense.

A high turnover mark plagued the Huskies throughout the game. They had 10 turnovers in the first half and 17 for the contest.

Head Coach Mark Montgomery said NIU’s turnovers were game changing and prevented the team from building on its 11-point lead in the first half.

“We played a great first half, just came up a little short,” Montgomery said. “If you’re going to win a road game, you definitely can’t have 17 turnovers.”

After allowing Akron to score six straight points to open the game, the Huskies went on a 22-5 run to take what would be their largest lead of the game, 22-11 with 9:09 left in the first half.

NIU went up 24-14 with eight minutes left in the first after a junior guard Eugene German lay-up, who moved into the top-10 all-time in NIU career scoring.

German finished the game with 23 points, nine rebounds and two assists on 6-18 shooting from the field, 3-8 on 3-pointers and 8-12 from the free-throw line.

The Huskies struggled offensively after German’s lay-up; they went 1-8 from the field with six turnovers for the remainder of the half. Their only field goal was a German lay-up with three seconds left in the first to put them up 28-24 at the game’s midway break.

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“We have to do a better job of valuing the ball,” Montgomery said. “We played great defense. We didn’t get a chance to reward ourselves when we got an 11-point lead. It was always a turnover, missed lay-up or miscue. You got to value the ball, it doesn’t matter if you’re home or away.”

Akron’s No. 1 ranked defense in points allowed per game in MAC games continued to slow down NIU to start the second half.  

The Huskies went 2-11 from the field and turned the ball over four times in the first eight minutes after the game’s intermission, allowing the Zips to turn a 11-point first half deficit into a 41-33 lead with 12:10 left in the game.

“We got stagnant, we had some good shots and we had some turnovers,” Montgomery said. “You have to make open shots. We settled for a couple of bad possessions against their 1-3-1, but I defensively I thought they did a good job of trying to get the ball out of German’s hands. We have to continue to share the ball and guys have to make plays.”

Akron led 46-35 with 9:34 left in the contest, when senior guard Dante Thorpe scored six successive points to reduce the deficit to 46-41 with 7:27 remaining. Thorpe finished with 16 points and four rebounds on 6-12 shooting.

Akron junior guard Jeremy Roscoe knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Zips up 54-45 with 4:19 left in the contest. Senior forward Levi Bradley and German combined for nine points within a two minute span of game time to tie the contest at 54 with 1:57 left.

Bradley finished with 14 points and four rebounds on 5-8 shooting from the field and 2-3 shooting on 3-pointers, despite not attempting a field goal until 2:09 left in the first half.  

“We would like to get to [Bradley going] early, no doubt about it,” Montgomery said. “At the same time it’s hard to get a guy going early when you have five turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game. Then they post doubling and he threw the ball out of the post double, so they did some things to combat it.”

The ensuing 1:36 minutes of game time was a 3-point barrage for both teams. Akron junior forward Daniel Utomi knocked down a corner 3-pointer to put the Zips up 57-54 with 1:39 left in the game.

After a pair of German free-throws, Akron senior guard Jimond Ivey made a 3-pointer with Bradley’s hand in his face to give the Zips a 60-55 lead with 52.7 seconds on the clock.

German countered with a pull-up 3-pointer to reduce NIU’s deficit to 60-58 with 44 seconds left in the game.

Ivey notched a corner 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining before German retaliated with a 3-pointer six seconds later to reduce the Huskies deficit to 63-61.

{{tncms-inline account=”Khobi Price” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This was the 3-point battle between NIU and Akron from earlier today. Five 3-pointers within 1:18 minutes of game time before Bradley made a 3-pointer with 5 seconds left. <a href=""></a></p>— Khobi Price (@khobi_p) <a href="">January 27, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

After a pair of Akron sophomore guard Loren Crist Jackson free-throws, German attempted to drive to the basket, but turned the ball over and fouled Jackson, sending him to the free-throw line for an one-and-one with 20 seconds left in the game.

Jackson missed the first free-throw, and Bradley dibbled the ball up the floor and knocked down afor a 3-pointer to reduce NIU’s deficit to 65-64 with only five seconds remaining.

{{tncms-inline account=”Khobi Price” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">BIG 3-pointer by Bradley to reduce NIU's decifcit to 65-64 with 5.4 seconds left in the game after Jackson missed the FT. <a href=""></a></p>— Khobi Price (@khobi_p) <a href="">January 27, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

Jackson made a pair of free-throws to put the Zips lead at 67-64 with five seconds left in the game before Akron fouled German with three remaining to prevent the Huskies from attempting a potential game-tying 3-pointer.

German made the first free-throw before intentionally missing the second, hoping NIU would secure the offensive rebound and score a quick bucket.

Senior forward Lacey James missed a cutback and the Huskies didn’t secure the ball before time ran out on the clock.

NIU shot 42 percent from the field for the contest and held Akron to 35 percent shooting, but allowed the Zips to make 14-35 3-pointers.

“I liked how we battled back in the game, tied it and gave ourselves a chance to win the game late. We came back from nine to tie the game with two minutes to go, that’s all you can ask. We had our chances, but we just didn’t capitalize.”

NIU, with a 11-8 overall and 4-3 MAC record, will return to the Convocation Center 7 p.m. Tuesday against the Ohio Bobcats. The match-up will be a rematch of the Huskies’ 72-66 Jan. 5 overtime victory versus Ohio.