Huskies fall in tournament

By Tom Burton

DeKALB — Men’s basketball played in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament Monday and senior center Marin Maric missed a pair of late free throws and the Eastern Michigan University Eagles won, 72-69, to close out the 2016-17 season.

After the Eagles (16-16, 8-10 MAC) went into halftime with a four-point lead, the Huskies (15-17, 7-11 MAC) cut it close near the end of the game. With about seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Huskies got senior center Marin Maric to the free-throw line.

Nevertheless, Head Coach Mark Montgomery said he was proud of his team for the season they had, and the fight and effort they showed night-in and night-out.

“I thought our guys battled and played with great energy and effort,” Montgomery said. “They laid it out and gave everything they could, but it didn’t go our way this time.”

In the final collegiate game of his career, the Huskies were led by Maric with 24 points and 16 rebounds in a season-high 35 minutes played.

“After halftime, [Eastern Michigan] made the adjustments on [Maric] that worked,” Montgomery said. “We made a conscious effort to get it in there to him in the second half. I thought we were playing good inside-out basketball the whole night.”

Freshman guard Eugene German went 4-for-13 shooting in 30 minutes in his first MAC tournament.

Montgomery said a game like this is great experience for German, and the younger players going forward, and will only make them better.

“It’s a tough zone [defense] to go against and {German] did a pretty good job at it,” Montgomery said. “Any time freshman play minutes like that in a game like this, it is [good] experience for the long run. It was an unbelievable stretch [German] was on, and I’m excited for him.”

The Huskies closed the season losing nine of their last 11 games, including losing to Ball State, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan twice during that span.

NIU played its final game with Maric and senior forward Aaric Armstead. The senior class ended its four seasons in DeKalb with 65 total victories, the second-best, four-year total in school history, according to NIU Media Services. Maric ended his Huskie career with 27 double-doubles and Armstead finished with over 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 150 assists in his career, making him just one of five active players in Division I to reach those three milestones.

“It was fun that we’re all on the same page with one another and that our team chemistry was great all year,” Montgomery said. “I liked that we were able to go on the road and win big games.”

The team will look to rebound next season with a team that will include freshman guards in German and Justin Thomas, along with the final seasons of junior forward Jaylen Key and redshirt senior guard Dontel Highsmith, who stayed healthy all year and started every game.

“It was fun, and it was a fun group to coach this year,” Montgomery said. “I liked the start of the MAC season but I did not like the finish.”