Men’s basketball closes season with loss to Santa Barbara

By Krystal Ward

Men’s basketball (21-13, 9-9 MAC) fell to the University of California, Santa Barbara 70-63 on Monday, ending the Huskies’ season.

NIU’s season comes to a close with 21 wins, tying the second-most wins in school history. Baker finished his remarkable Huskie career with a school-record of 126 games played, never missing a single game and starting 101 career games.

The guard is first in school history with 184 career steals, second in assists with 357 and just four points shy of the 1,000-point plateau. It was also the final game for senior wing Chuks Iroegbu, who finished with three points and a rebound in 17 minutes.

NIU freshman guard Laytwan Porter and freshman wing Levi Bradley received their first career starts Monday, but the team wasn’t able to capitalize. The Huskies jumped out to an early 5-4 lead before the first media timeout. A Bradley put-back tied the game at 13 with 12:06 to play before NIU freshman forward Jaylen Key picked up a steal and slammed it home to put NIU back in front.

A three-pointer by NIU senior guard Travon Baker gave the Huskies a 21-19 lead with 8:44 to play in the first half. Baker hit his second three on a 12-2 NIU run that gave the Huskies a 30-21 advantage and forced a Santa Barbara timeout with 6:33 left to play in the first period.

NIU led 43-32 at the end of the first period. Junior guard Aaric Armstead led the way with 10 points. Bradley finished the half with eight points.

Santa Barbara opened the second half on a 7-2 run. NIU picked up six quick fouls, helping the Gauchos take a 48-43 with 11:41 left to play.

The Gauchos extended their lead to 63-58 with 3:13 left in the contest. After a three by freshman guard Marshawn Wilson, the Huskies pulled within one, 64-63, but it was as close as NIU would get to a comeback.

The Huskies had opportunities in the final minutes to make a comeback but they could not convert a missed three and a pair of free throws. The team shot 51.9 percent (14-27) in the first half but could not get going in the second half, shooting just 25.9 percent (7-27).

The Huskies shot 38.9 percent (21-54) for the game. Wilson led NIU with 14 points and Armstead notched a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The team shot 26.7 percent (4-15) from behind the arc.

The Huskies held Santa Barbara to 46.4 percent (26-56), scored 17 points off of 16 Gauchos turnovers and held a 23-13 edge in bench points. NIU had just six assists to Santa Barbara’s 14. The Gauchos edged the Huskies 32-24 in points in the paint and 10-9 in second chance points.

Gabe Vincent, Santa Barbara sophomore guard, led the Gauchos with 20 points on 6-12 shooting from the field and 4-8 from the three-point line. Senior center Sam Beeler also scored in double-figures for the team with 16 points and senior guard Michael Bryson contributed nine points.

“I thought we played unbelievable basketball in the first half,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery, according to an NIU Athletics news release. “They started the second half with a run and it seemed like we couldn’t defend without fouling. That helped them get to the bonus and the free-throw line, and we struggled to score in the second half.

It seemed like we couldn’t get consecutive baskets. I thought we got good shots but the ball has to go in the basket if you are going to advance. I’m proud of my guys. They gave everything they had and put NIU basketball back on the map [this season].”