Men’s basketball drops first game in MAC play to Ball State

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Jarrett Huff | Northern Star

NIU Head Coach Mark Montgomery (second from the left) talks with junior forward Chinedu Kingsley Okanu (right) during a timeout Dec. 8, after Kingsley Okanu picked up a blocking foul late in NIU’s 79-70 Loss to Ball State at the NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb.

Kyle Mathas, Reporter

DeKALB — The men’s basketball team fell in overtime Tuesday to open up Mid-American Conference play against the Ball State University Cardinals, 79-70. 

The Huskies are now 0-1 in MAC play with the loss and 0-4 on the season. NIU junior guard Trendon Hankerson had the ball with 10 seconds left in the second half. He missed the game-winning shot, and the game went to overtime.

“We ran a single screen at the top of the key,” Hankerson said. “I came off a little wide and missed the shot. I should have hit the shot. I would put the blame on myself.”

The Huskies were led by junior guard Darius Beane and Hankerson who both had 18 points. Sophomore guard Tyler Cochran did not play tonight due to COVID-19 contact tracing.

“We don’t know how long it will be until [Cochran] will return,” Head Coach Mark Montgomery said. “Whether it will be a week or two, we don’t know.”

Senior forward Nathan Scott did not play either due to another virus, Montgomery said.

Ball State was led by senior guard Ishmael El-Amin and redshirt senior K.J. Walton who led the team, each with 18 points. The Huskies were in deep foul trouble in the second half, with three players fouling out, allowing for Ball State to shoot 39 free throws throughout the entire game. 

“We figure conference play will be more physical,” Montgomery said. “They had 39 free throws and we only had 21. It was just unfortunate with the foul trouble.”

The Huskies shot well, shooting 41% from the field and 26% from the 3-point line. Hankerson, who had only 17 total points in his first two games, has now scored 18 points in the last two games. 

“[Hankerson] is aggressive,” Montgomery said. “He is looking to score. It’s his time. He’s a junior and he’s a leader on the floor. His time working for it has finally paid off.”

The Huskies will play the third-ranked University of Iowa Hawkeyes Sunday. The game will be played in Iowa City, and tip-off will be at 1 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports.