Men’s hoops on right path


Junior Aaron Armstead throws down a dunk during NIU’s 111-61 win over St. Joseph Nov. 24 at the Convocation Center. Men’s basketball is returning four starters and is hoping to improve next season.

By Brian Earle

DeKalb | In year three of the Mark Montgomery era, men’s basketball took a giant step in the right direction in the biggest turnaround in school history.

After winning just five games total in each of the last two seasons, the Huskies tripled that by winning 15 games this season. The Huskies also improved in conference play this season, winning eight MAC games compared to just three conference games in each of the last two seasons.

“It meant that definitely the program is going in the right direction,” said coach Mark Montgomery. “And your players, your staff, your trainers, everybody that’s a part of the program showed an unbelievable commitment from last season to this season to turning this thing into a winner.”

The Huskies’ success allowed them to reach a number of goals this season. They hosted their first MAC Tournament game since 2003 and earned the No. 7 seed in the MAC Tournament.

After defeating Bowling Green 54-51 in overtime, they moved onto their ultimate goal: playing in the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.

“Well, reaching your goals is important because it gives you something to shoot for,” Montgomery said. “For this season, the goal was to host a home game and get to Cleveland.

“Now the next step for this program is to play multiple games and get to the finals to take the next step to winning the league. It shows your guys that goals are obtainable when you put in the hard work. You stay focused and you stick together.”

The Huskies came up short in their first game in Cleveland, falling to Eastern Michigan for the second time this season, 53-48. Although the loss was disappointing, it was good for this young team to experience the trip to Cleveland.

“It was very important because [now] you’re not talking about somewhere you haven’t been,” Montgomery said. “We’ve been there, we’ve had a taste of it, we’ve played on the floor, we’ve worked out, we understand the travel. Now our goal for next season is to make sure we get one of those first four byes so we’re sitting in Cleveland waiting.”

Looking ahead to next season, the Huskies are poised to make a deep run in Cleveland. They return four starters: center Jordan Threloff, wing Darrell Bowie and guards Travon Baker and Aaric Armstead.

On top of that, transfer guards Anthony Johnson (Purdue) and Michael Orris (Kansas State) are eligible to play next season. Guard Dontel Highsmith, who was the Huskies’ leading scorer before tearing his ACL this season, will also be back next season.

With this group of players returning and Montgomery’s system in place, the Huskies will have the opportunity to make a lot of noise in the MAC next season.

“The bar and expectations are definitely raised because of what you have coming back and how we played this year,” Montgomery said. “We already showed that this year we can compete with anyone in the conference; we’re only going to be stronger and better. We expect more. We expect more wins, we expect to finish higher and we expect to be in Cleveland for multiple days.”