Men’s hoops lose in regular season finale; play at Eastern Michigan to begin tourney

By Krystal Ward

DeKALB — Men’s basketball fell in its regular season finale, 87-82, to the Ball State University Cardinals, and as a result ended with the No. 9 seed to enter the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The Huskies finished the season with a 15-16 overall record and 7-11 Mid-American Conference record, losing seven of their past eight games.

NIU will face the No. 8 seed Eastern Michigan University Eagles in the first round 6 p.m. Monday in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Ball State University

The Huskies had 13 turnovers to 10 assists, while Ball State had nine turnovers but dished out 19 assists.

Freshman guard Eugene German scored a team-high 17 points on 47 percent shooting from the field while sophomore forward Jaylen Key added 12 points. Sophomore guard Austin Pauga and sophomore wing Levi Bradled added 11 and 10 points, respectively, as the team had five players score in double figures.

“I thought our guys came out and played hard,” said Head Coach Mark Montgomery. “I liked the fight, we had five guys in double figures and Dontel [Highsmith] had nine [points]. We were coming off a tough loss and our guys came out with a lot of fight.”

NIU led the game early and was shooting 54 percent from the field eight minutes into the first half, but Ball State’s hot shooting put them in front, 28-22, with eight minutes to go before halftime.

The Huskies were within five points, 60-55, with close to six minutes left in the game before Ball State extended its lead back to 10, 69-59, with under four minutes remaining.

Maric picked up a technical foul with less than two minutes remaining, and as a result, fouled out of the game.

Pauga cut the Cardinals’ lead to seven points, 79-72, with one minute left to play, and Ball State called timeout.

Highsmith was fouled on a 3-point attempt and sank all three free throws to make it a five-point game.

Bradley cut the lead to 83-80 on a layup off a Ball State turnover, but the Cardinals made late free throws to seal the game.

Senior center Marin Maric picked up his fifth consecutive double-double and 26th of his career with 16 points and 10 rebounds on 5-for-7 shooting from the field.

Senior forward Franko House led the Cardinals with 22 points on 54 percent (7-for-13) shooting from the field.

NIU shot 43 percent from the field, while the Cardinals shot 47 percent from the field and 43 percent from the 3-point line.

Eastern Michigan University

The Huskies and Eagles split the season series, with NIU taking the first matchup in DeKalb, 81-69, and Eastern Michigan winning the second game, 84-68, in Ypsilanti.

The Huskies lost to the Eagles, 53-48, in the second round of the MAC Tournament on Mar. 12, 2014.

NIU leads the all-time series, 51-40.