NIU men’s basketball fights for victory over Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils

By Frank Gogola

Mark Montgomery, men’s basketball head coach, liked what his team did in the final three-plus minutes of Tuesday’s game, but he didn’t like that they had to do it.

The Huskies (4-3) held the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (1-9) to a pair of free throws and an inconsequential last-second 3-pointer in the final 3:27 en route to a 71-64 win Tuesday at the Convocation Center.

The Huskies had led by as many as 18 points midway through the second half but a late Delta Devils burst brought the game within six points with three-plus minutes to play.

“In a game like this … we should have buried them and put that game away,” Montgomery said. “But, a turnover here, a lackadaisical play there, not taking care of the ball and not finishing possessions. But, like I said, new season, new team, we’re still working out the kinks. I think the more practice we have, the more games we play definitely by the MAC season we’ll be ready to go.”

The Huskies and Delta Devils battled back in forth in the first half, and Montgomery said he thought the team had played harder in practice leading up to the game than they had played in the first half. The Huskies never trailed, but the two teams were tied on six occasions in the first half as the Delta Devils answered each NIU run.

The Huskies had used a 17-1 run to go up 58-40 midway through the second half. They led by 17 points before the Delta Devils put together a 13-2 run to pull within six points with 3:28 to play.

“… I don’t want a team that the light switch goes on and off,” Montgomery said. “I want the light switch to stay on. And good teams and great teams put teams away.”

Unable to put the Delta Devils away, the Huskies let them creep back into the game; however, NIU outscored Mississippi Valley State 6-5 in the closing minutes with buckets from redshirt senior center Jordan Threloff, sophomore guard Aaric Armstead and redshirt senior guard Anthony Johnson to secure the win.

Johnson paced the Huskies with 14 points. Threloff and Aaric Armstead added 10 points apiece while junior forward Darrell Bowie and senior guard Aaron Armstead chipped in nine points each.

The Huskies struggled at the free throw line, finishing at 51.4 percent (18-35) after shooting 47.1 percent (8-17) in the first half. Their low this season at the charity stripe coming into the game was 69.2 percent Nov. 20 against the Idaho Vandals.

“It’s just a confidence thing, but it’s also contagious,” Montgomery said. “When the first few guys go up there and miss them it seems like it kind of trickles throughout the team. When you look at it it’s one game, you can’t panic over one game.”