NIU men’s basketball: Huskies host struggling Ball State Cardinals

By Steve Shonder

What’s happening

Men’s basketball (9-12, 3-7 MAC) looks to get a leg up in the MAC West as it takes on the Ball State Cardinals (7-14, 2-8 MAC) 7 p.m. today at the Convocation Center.


After opening MAC play with two straight wins, the Cardinals have fallen on hard times, losing eight in a row. Most of their struggles come from an inability to keep up with opposing offenses. Opponents are making 45 percent of their shots against them, which is ranked 11th in the MAC.

But, it’s a similar situation to what the Huskies are going through. Both teams are in the middle of the conference in points allowed, with NIU a few points better, allowing 64.9 points per game to Ball State’s allowed 66.6 points per game.

The Cardinals have a lot of shooters who can score, with three players averaging double figures. Sophomore Franko House gives Ball State a strong inside scoring presence, and pairing him with freshman Sean Sellers adds a nice inside-out aspect to the Cardinals’ offense.

It’s going to come down to rebounding, which is something Ball State doesn’t do nearly as well as NIU. When the Huskies get a big rebounding advantage they’re able to run in transition. It’s a style the Huskies have thrived in, the most recent example coming in their 18-4 game opening run Saturday against the Bowling Green Falcons.

Players to watch

Ball State freshman Sellers has been Ball State’s No. 1 scoring option with freshman Jeremie Tyler out due to academic ineligibility. Sellers has been shooting lights out from beyond the 3-point line, making 45.3 percent of his shots while averaging 12.5 points per game.

Junior Travon Baker has been clutch for the Huskies in his last few outings. Whenever they’ve needed a basket or a smart play, Baker has been there. Expect him to be a difference maker, especially if he gets a chance at a few pull-up shots from the free-throw line.

Last meeting

The Huskies took the Cardinals to the woodshed in the 2014 regular season finale, winning 70-56 March 8, 2014, at the Convocation Center behind junior Darrell Bowie’s 18 points.

The quotes

“I like when we get out and run in transition and get early opportunities,” said head coach Mark Montgomery. “I don’t like that we’re only averaging 64.5 points a game. We just have to shoot the ball better. To average more points you have to put the ball in the basket. If we can focus on taking better shots and freeing up some of our teammates, our shooting percentages should go up.”

“If we get second and third opportunities we’ll probably score more points or get to the free-throw line even more, but other teams scout us,” Montgomery said. “We’re one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the conference. They try to block us out. On the defensive end, if we could hold teams more to lower shooting percentages in the 30 percent then we could probably get out and score more points. Right now, we’re holding them in the low 40s, so we have to [get] that in the 30s.”