NIU men’s basketball: Huskies to take on Eastern Michigan Eagles

By Steve Shonder

Men’s basketball (10-14, 4-9 MAC) will play host to the Eastern Michigan Eagles (16-10, 5-8 MAC) 7 p.m. Saturday at the Convocation Center in a battle for the ninth seed in the MAC Tournament. The Huskies are the No. 10 seed, while the Eagles are No. 9. The Huskies are angling for the No. 8 seed, which would allow them to host a first-round MAC Tournament game.


The Huskies are headed into a defensive battle. Eastern Michigan is allowing just 62.3 points per game, which ranks it third in the MAC. But, since conference play has begun, the Eagles have allowed 67.2 points per game. Most of their success comes from forcing turnovers, which they do better than any other team in the conference. The Eagles are forcing an average of 15 turnovers per game and boast a plus-3.1 turnover advantage.

With the Eagles’ Karrington Ward on the inside, the Huskies will have to be cautious on the interior but not shy away from inside scoring. They’ll need to establish their inside game to exploit their rebounding advantage and get second-chance baskets. Ward is averaging 1.5 blocks per game and tied for fourth in the MAC with 38 blocks. Ward is also picking up 6.5 rebounds per game.

The key for the Huskies will be to defend without fouling, which is something head coach Mark Montgomery has stressed as an indicator of success. When opponents get to the line — especially a team like Eastern Michigan, which shoots 71 percent at the foul line — NIU’s chances for a win tend to go out the window. Teams may be shooting well against the Huskies, but they’ve been able to bear it when they don’t let opponents augment that with trips to the charity stripe.

Players to watch

Redshirt sophomore guard Raven Lee is the focal point of the Eagles’ offense, and he’ll be an x factor for the Eagles if the game is close late. The Huskies did a good job shutting down Central Michigan Chippewas’ Chris Fowler, and it was a big part of the Huskies’ late comeback attempt. Lee, averaging 16.2 points per game, must get the same treatment if NIU will be able to pull this one out.

Redshirt senior Jordan Threloff is coming off his second-straight game with a double-double. With Threloff locking down the interior it will open things up for the guards to score or grab rebounds. If Threloff is effective in the paint the Huskies should have a good day on both ends of the floor.

Injury report

Redshirt freshman Marin Maric will be back in action Saturday, giving the Huskies a much-needed boost to their front court depth. Junior Darrell Bowie will be out as he continues to recover after re-aggravating his shoulder injury.

The quotes

“They probably have one of the best 2-3 zone defenses in college basketball, but we’re going to try to pound that ball on the inside: to Threloff, to Marin, to [Keith] Gray, to [Pete] Rakocevic,” Montgomery said. “You have to have good passing. You have to have pass fakes. You have to have shot fakes. You have to be able to dribble-drive, but we’re going to try to beat the zone down the floor first. Then, we’re going to get try to get inside-out shots.”

“Taking care of the ball is a big thing,” said junior Travon Baker. “When we lower our turnovers and we get shots up at the rim, we’re always a better team. I feel like if I start off taking care of the ball, it might rotate to my teammates to pick it up.”