DeKALB — All good things, no matter how fun they are, ultimately come to an end.
The men’s basketball team has been having a lot of fun the last few weeks, rolling to six wins in a row and to the top of the Mid-American Conference standings. The win streak, the Huskies’ longest in MAC history, came to an end on the road at Ball State University Tuesday night.
NIU fell behind the Cardinals by double digits in the second half, and a furious rally came up just short in a 63-59 loss.
“The positive is it was an unbelievable comeback, but you have to finish," Head Coach Mark Montgomery said in a media release."It was a valiant effort; we knew the game was going to be like this. It was hard-fought by both teams, and it is always like that when we play Ball State."
In a game that featured two of the top defenses in the MAC, points were going to be hard to come by, and the two teams took it to the extreme early in the game. The Huskies were held scoreless for the first six and a half minutes and could only manage six points through the first 11 minutes of the contest.
That offensive power outage by the Huskies allowed Ball State to jump out to a 9-0 lead. The Cardinals eventually took a 29-22 advantage into the break while holding NIU to just 33% shooting in the first half, including 1-for-13 from 3-point range.
The Huskies again got off to a slow start in the second half, and again BSU jumped on them, opening the half with a 10-2 run that stretched the lead to 15 points at 39-24.
The lead was again at 15 points midway through the half, but the Huskies started clawing back, finally getting as close as 61-59 after a 3-pointer by junior guard Zaire Mateen with 13 seconds to go.
The comeback ended there, as Ball State junior guard Ishmael El-Amin made two free throws to nail down the win for the Cardinals and improve its home record to 5-0 in MAC play.
El-Amin led all scorers with 22 points. Senior guard Eugene German scored 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting for the Huskies and grabbed seven rebounds. Mateen and first-year guard Tyler Cochran each scored 12 for NIU, and redshirt senior forward Lacey James had a team-high eight rebounds.
The Huskies fall to 15-10 overall and 8-4 in conference play, while Ball State improves to 14-10 overall and 7-4 in the MAC, now just one game behind the Huskies in the MAC West standings. The two teams will have a rematch on March 6 in DeKalb, the final weekend of the regular season.
The Huskies head back on the road this weekend when they travel to Miami University–Ohio. NIU beat the Redhawks 70-55 in a matchup Feb. 1 at the Convocation Center. The game will tip off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Millett Hall. It will be available on ESPN3.