DeKALB — It’s getting down to crunch time in the Mid-American Conference.
The men’s basketball team traveled to Ypsilanti, Michigan Tuesday night to take on Eastern Michigan University with four conference games remaining and plenty to play for over the next two weeks.
The MAC West-leading Huskies got off to an awful start against the Eagles, but rallied back from a 17-point first-half deficit to pull out a huge road win. After never leading the entire game, senior guard Eugene German gave them the lead when it counted, banging home a 3-pointer with seven seconds to play that sent the Huskies home with a 73-71 win.
Playing on the road for the third time in four games, the Huskies couldn’t buy a basket through the first 10 minutes of the game. The Eagles’ 1-3-1 zone defense gave NIU fits, and EMU jumped out to a 22-5 lead.
The Huskies began bombing away from long range in hopes of getting back into the game, and the shots started to fall. German hit two threes in a row, then junior guard Zaire Mateen took over, hitting three straight from downtown.
Mateen’s threes brought the Huskies within one point in the closing seconds of the first half, and after EMU tacked on two more free throws, German dropped another 3-pointer with 23 seconds to play that sent the teams to the locker room tied at 37.
The Huskies continued to play from behind in the second half, with EMU’s lead reaching as high as nine points after a 3-pointer from junior forward Thomas Binelli, with just over seven minutes to play.
Binelli led the Eagles with 26 points.
With time winding down, the Huskies once again turned to the 3-pointer, with sophomore guard Trendon Hankerson dialing one up from long distance to cut EMU’s lead to 71-70 with 17 seconds to go.
Hankerson then came up big on the other end of the floor, blocking a shot from redshirt junior forward Ty Groce with 13 seconds to go. Hankerson completed the big-play trifecta when he assisted on German’s game-winner on the Huskies’ next possession.
German scored a game-high 27 points to lead the way for the Huskies, while Mateen and first-year guard Tyler Cochran tallied 15 apiece.
With the win, the first in Ypsilanti since 2012, the Huskies improve to 17-11 overall and 10-5 in the MAC. The win helped NIU stay a game ahead of Ball State University in the MAC West as the teams look primed to square off in a winner-take-all game March 6 at the Convocation Center.
Before the Huskies get there, however, they must survive one more road test against the Western Michigan Broncos at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at University Arena.