DeKALB — Forgive the men’s basketball team for being a little defensive about its efforts Monday against Oakland University.
Actually, that is a good thing, as it was the Huskie defense in the second half that paved the way for a 74-50 win. The victory was the sixth in a row for the Huskies and sends them into Thanksgiving break with a 6-2 record.
“This winning streak is huge,” sophomore guard Trendon Hankerson said. “Last year we had some down times where we lost six straight, so to come back and flip it around this year is great. I hope we can keep it going.”
For the first 20 minutes, the Huskies had some issues with the huge front line of 6-foot-11, 240-pound senior center Brad Brechting, 6-foot-7, 261-pound Xavier Hall-Mais and 6-foot-7, 220-pound sophomore Daniel Oladapo. With Hill-Mais leading the way with 11 points and six rebounds, the trio combined for 19 points and 13 boards in a very physical first half.
The Huskies led by only five points at the break, 34-29.
Oladapo opened the second half with a 3-point shot, but that was it for the Golden Grizzlies, who then went 10 minutes, 16 seconds without a field goal until sophomore guard Tray Maddox, Jr. hit another trey with 8:44 minutes left in the game.
In the meantime, senior guard Eugene German scored seven quick points coming out of the locker room, and the Huskies opened up the half on a 16-4 run to break the game open. The lead reached as high as 26 points as NIU held Oakland to 18% shooting in the second half, including 1-for-10 behind the 3-point line.
“I thought that was our best defense for a half this season,” Head Coach Mark Montgomery said. “It was fun to watch, and I like the direction this team is headed. I thought even though we won our last two road games, we had gotten a little bit out of character. The players were more physical, and they locked in to what we wanted them to do.”
German led the way for the Huskies with a game-high 21 points and is now averaging 21.4 points per game to lead the way in the Mid-American Conference. With his 171 points this season, German now has 1,740 career points, leaving him nine points away from Paul Dawkins for fourth on the all-time NIU scoring list, and 256 behind T.J. Lux as the leading scorer in school history.
Hankerson hit four of his five 3-point shots on his way to a career-high 14 points for the Huskies and is now shooting 65.2%, 15-for-23, from behind the arc. Senior forward Noah McCarty added seven points and seven rebounds for NIU, while redshirt senior forward Lacey James grabbed a game-high 13 boards.
A total of 10 Huskies scored on a night where they shot 50% from the field and made 13 three-point shots.
“It’s just about working together and being a group,” Hankerson said. “That’s really where the winning streak has come from, and what helped us win. We’re always trying to get the best shot we can, whether it’s threes or inside.”
Hankerson said the Huskies moved the ball well, and the team took advantage of open looks at the basket.
After playing eight games in 16 days, the Huskies now have an extended break and don’t take the floor again until they travel to California to take on St. Mary’s University.
Tipoff against the Gaels will be at 9 p.m. Dec. 5 at McKeon Pavilion.