NIU men’s basketball: Huskies take nosedive against Buffalo Bulls

By Steve Shonder

Men’s basketball was able to run with the Bulls early, but Buffalo used an offensive outburst to separate it from the pack.

After a missed jumper by redshirt freshman Marin Maric, Buffalo Bulls sophomore Jarryn Skeete hit a 3-pointer at the 8:45 mark in the first half to push Buffalo’s lead to 17-13. Skeete hit two more 3-pointers 67 seconds later to stretch the Bulls’ lead to 10.

Redshirt sophomore Aaric Armstead responded with a layup to cut the lead to eight, but that was the closest the Huskies (7-7, 1-2 MAC) would get for the rest of the game, as they fell to Buffalo (11-4, 2-1 MAC), 82-63, in Buffalo, N.Y.

“We probably played well for the first 10 minutes,” said head coach Mark Montgomery. “Then Skeete hit those 3-pointers. I think that just broke our back.

“We tried to match his three with quick-3s, and you can’t do it. It was a huge factor in the game.”

Buffalo shot the ball well throughout the game, making half its shots, but the Huskies were at least able to match it offensively in the second half. Armstead and redshirt senior Anthony Johnson scored 10 and 14 points, respectively, in the final 20 minutes. Armstead finished with 16 points while Johnson finished with 21.

The Huskies had problems shooting the ball in the first half. After Skeete’s nine-point outburst, NIU could only muster eight points in response, which left it down by 21 at the half.

“I wasn’t happy with the shot selection early,” Montgomery said. “We just settled for 3-pointers because they were going under on ball screens. We just weren’t patient. It made it easier on Buffalo that they didn’t have to defend on drives.”

Buffalo’s hot shooting had a lot to do with its baskets on fast breaks. The missed 3-pointers by the Huskies enabled the Bulls to snag long rebounds and move down the court before the defense could get set. This happened just as frequently with the Huskies’ turnovers. Buffalo finished with 30 points off turnovers.

“To cut down on turnovers you have to make the simple pass,” Montgomery said. “It’s just basic. Keep it simple, make passes, play together. Against Kent State, we had four in the second half; that’s acceptable. When you’re on the road, you have nine in the first half, it’s tragic.”

NIU was limited early as it saw redshirt senior Jordan Threloff and junior Travon Baker get into foul trouble. They were only able to play eight and six minutes, respectively, in the first half. Baker fouled out in the second half.

“We have to be able to defend without fouling,” Montgomery said. “It’s hard to get into a defensive rhythm when you’re playing three fouls or so.”

The foul trouble for the Huskies was a plus for the Bulls. Buffalo sophomore Justin Moss reaped the benefits, going 8-for-14 from the free-throw line on his way to an 18-point night. Buffalo shot 28 free throws to the Huskies’ 15.

Next up for the Huskies is a trip to Ypsilanti, Mich., when they take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles 11 a.m. Saturday. Eastern Michigan is coming off a loss of its own, 65-59, to the Kent State Golden Flashes Wednesday.

Montgomery said he wants NIU to rebound with a strong first half.

“The best way [to get over the loss to Buffalo] is to get to Eastern Michigan and play a good 20 minutes in the first half,” Montgomery said. “Hopefully, we got our worst game out of the way, and we can get back to playing NIU basketball.”