NIU men’s basketball: Huskies come up short in MAC home opener

By Steve Shonder

Men’s basketball wrapped up winter break with its first home loss in its last 12 home games.

The Huskies (7-6, 1-1 MAC) fell to the Kent State Golden Flashes (10-5, 1-1 MAC), 67-65, Saturday at the Convocation Center in a back-and-forth game that ended when Kent State junior Kris Brewer hit a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left on the clock. The loss ended a three-game winning streak and a record-tying 11-game home winning streak.

“It seemed like déjà vu, only it didn’t go to overtime,” said head coach Mark Montgomery. “Whenever we play Kent State it’s a battle. Unfortunately, we didn’t find enough things to find a way to win the game. But, we have to be able to defend without fouling, and I thought we just fouled a little bit too much.”

Brewer’s free throws put the Golden Flashes up by two points, and the Huskies were unable to convert on the following possession. Redshirt senior Anthony Johnson’s shot clanged off the rim, and Kent State came up with the rebound.

Redshirt senior Jordan Threloff led the Huskies with 21 points and nine rebounds. He went 11-12 from the free-throw line. Johnson contributed 14 points, with 11 coming in the second half. Kent State senior Devareaux Manley scored 19 points, including five 3-pointers, all of which came in the second half.

NIU won the rebounding battle with 39 to Kent State’s 30, 21 of which came on the offensive glass. The offensive rebounds played a big role as the Huskies put up 19 second-chance points.

“I think we just played aggressively as a team,” Threloff said. “We missed a couple shots early. My teammates kept confident, and coach was confident. We were able to play really well inside.”

Winter break recap

Despite a 4-4 record over winter break, the Huskies haven’t been out of many games as the clock winds down.

The Huskies have only had one loss of four or more points, which came against the No. 13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 91-66, Dec. 22.

While the Huskies still haven’t found a consistent shooting stroke over winter break, their performance from the charity stripe has kept them in a lot of games, particularly their overtime win over the UC Riverside Highlanders Jan. 2. NIU shot 35 free throws to the Highlanders’ 11. The Huskies pulled off a similar feat against the Hampton Pirates Dec. 29 as they shot 37 free throws.

A deep bench continues to be a huge plus for the Huskies. Against the Ohio Bobcats Jan. 7, the bench chipped in 22 points. With leading scorer Darrell Bowie out with an injury and senior Aaron Armstead limited due to a knee injury, the Huskies had a lot of players step up.

“We can go 10-11 deep when we get Darrell Bowie back, but the bench is going to be a factor all season,” Montgomery said. “Chuks [Iroegbu] came in and gave us great energy. Travon Baker, to me, is a sixth starter. … As the season goes on, as long as our bench keeps getting better it’s going to be an advantage for us.”