Men’s basketball leads Ball State at the half in first game of MAC play

Entrance+2+of+the+NIU+Convocation+Center+Sept.+2%2C+in+DeKalb%2C+Illinois.

Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

Entrance 2 of the NIU Convocation Center Sept. 2, in DeKalb, Illinois.

Jarrett Huff

DeKalb — At the end of the first half in 2020-21 Mid-American Conference play, the men’s basketball team leads the Ball State University Cardinals Tuesday 34-28.

The last first half of MAC play occurred March 6 on senior night at the NIU Convocation Center, which unknown to everyone in the arena, would be the last NIU basketball game of the 2019-20 season. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 MAC Championship Tournament before the Huskies had a chance to play.

While Ball State got out to a 10-0 start en route to a 21-point blowout win a sobering finish to a great season and NIU all-time scoring leader Eugene German’s career things were far from the same, as the Huskies came out with a vengeance. 

Junior guard Trendon Hankerson got off to a quick start with a tough finish at the rim and a 3-pointer to put NIU ahead 7-6 very early in the first half.

The offense was in a rhythm early, despite missing key players, sophomore guard Tyler Cochran and senior forward Nathan Scott. The offense seemed more focused and refined than in weeks’ past, with their lead ballooning to six at 12-6.

Junior guard Darius Beane made it an eight-point game with under 11 minutes to play, going on a little 4-0 run of his own. A pair of free throws from junior forward Chinedu Kingsley Okanu gave the Huskies a double-digit lead at 20-10.

A series of fouls late in the half led to several opportunities at the stripe for the Cardinals, as they closed the game to 25-23 with a little over four minutes remaining. Kingsley Okanu gave the Huskies back-to-back buckets inside to give NIU a six-point cushion with a little over four minutes remaining.

An and-one from Beane gave the Huskies another eight-point lead with just under three minutes remaining, 32-24.

With the clock winding down, NIU sophomore point guard Kaleb Thornton was stripped by Ball State redshirt sophomore guard Kani Acree, and found sophomore guard Luke Bumbalough on the other end for a 3-point shot to beat the buzzer, trimming NIU’s lead to six right at halftime.

The shot was a much-needed boost for the Cardinals, as the team was visibly frustrated as halftime drew near. A slow start combined with a lack of consistency on both ends of the ball, and several calls in NIU’s favor had hampered the team’s attitude. 

By the end of the half, both teams combined for 24 personal fouls Ball State committing 11 and NIU committing 13.

The second half of the contest is available on ESPN3.