Huskies riding high-powered offense to success


By Khobi Price

The men’s basketball team’s solid 6-4 start to the 2018-19 season is due to its historic offensive production, but it will need to pick up the slack on defense if it wants to contend for the 2019 Mid-American Conference Championship.

The Huskies’ defensive struggles from the 2017-18 campaign have carried over through the Huskies’ first 10 games of the season.

NIU has conceded 86.5 points per contest in its four losses and allowed opposing teams to shoot 52.3 percent from the field in the aforementioned four games.

Head Coach Mark Montgomery said last season NIU needed to do a better job of preventing dribble penetration for the team to improve on 3-point defense, according to a Feb. 15 Northern Star article, and the same holds true for this year’s team.

“We have to guard the ball better; we have to be in our gaps and give early help, and then we have to close-out chest-to-chest and guard the man,” Montgomery said. “It’s as simple as that, but it’s the hardest thing to do. You ask any coach that’s been in this business a long time, dribble penetration is the hardest thing to guard, and that’s what we’re working on to get better at.”

The Huskies’ poor 3-point defense plagued them last season, and it’s been abysmal through their 10 games.

NIU ranks 340th of 351 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men’s basketball teams in 3-point field goal percentage allowed in the nation, according to sports reference.

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 Opposing teams have shot 44.2 percent from beyond the arc in NIU’s four defeats and are shooting 39.7 percent from distance against the Huskies for the season.

“We need to work on staying disciplined to our man and making sure our man stays in front,” senior forward Lacey James said. “If our man gets beat, then there’s help side and when the help side comes through another guy has to help the helper, then that means a guy is opened. Making sure we’re in our defensive principles is a key for the rest of the year.”


The Huskies’ offense is outstanding

NIU’s extraordinary offensive start to the season has made up for the lackluster defensive productive. The Huskies rank first in field goal percentage, 11th in true shooting percentage and 19th in offensive rating in the nation, according to sports reference.

The team’s top four players in field goal attempts per game are shooting over 50 percent from the field, and six of the top eight players in shot attempts per contests are making over half their shots as well.


Eugene German

Levi Bradley

Dante Thorpe

Lacey James

Jaylen Key

Noah McCarty

*Austin Richie

Rod Henry-Hayes

Field goal attempts per game









Field goal percentage









Points per game









bold = career-high

* = first-year player

Montgomery said the Huskies needed to share the ball at a higher frequency and get more assists after NIU finished the 2017-18 campaign last in assists per game in the nation and didn’t have a player on its roster who averaged more than two per game.

This season, four Huskies are putting up at least two helpers per contest, led by junior guard Eugene German with 3.1. NIU is averaging 15 assists per game after dishing out 9.21 per contest last season.

“We’re just a talented bunch that finds the open man and shares the ball,” James said. “When you swing the ball, you make the defense work, and they’ll get tired eventually. If we keep doing that, the simple offense, that’s a reason why we’re top five in the country [in field goal percentage].”


Defense wins championships

The “defense wins championships” mantra still holds true, especially in the MAC. Every MAC champion since 2014 has ranked better than 170th in opposing field goal percentage and 180th in opposing 3-point field goal percentage in the nation, two marks the Huskies are currently far below.

Four of the previous five MAC tournament champions ranked in the top four in opposing field goal percentage in conference play. The one outlier was in 2015 when the Buffalo Bulls won the championship with the sixth-ranked defense in the MAC.

NIU has historically had a defensive blueprint. The Huskies ranked in the top five in points allowed per game in conference each season from the 2012-13 campaign to the 2016-17 season.

They will need to gain a two-way balance to maximize the potential of this season’s squad and claim their first MAC title since 1982.

“Your defense travels with you; if you rebound and defend, it’s going to give ourselves a chance to win on the road and at home,” Montgomery said. “The ceiling is definitely high for this team with how we’re scoring the basketball. If we can just lock in on the defensive side of the basketball, we can have a pretty good season. Only time can tell, but it’s definitely being emphasized in practice.”