DeKALB — The one thing that has sparked the men’s basketball team’s six-game winning streak has been the ability to impose its will on the opponent on the defensive end.
That’s a bit of an anomaly in the Mid-American Conference where up-tempo games featuring lots of points are often the norm. The slowed pace of games has been working for the Huskies though, who are 8-3 in conference play, leading the MAC West and just one game behind Bowling Green State University for the most victories in the league.
One team very much like NIU is the Ball State University Cardinals, who also focus on the defensive end. BSU is next up on the schedule for the Huskies, who will travel 6 p.m. Tuesday to Muncie, Indiana at Worthen Arena.
Both squads feature defenses ranked in the top 50 in the country in points allowed. The Huskies are also in the top 50 in defensive field goal percentage and defensive 3-point field goal percentage.
On paper, it appears there won’t be a lot of scoring Tuesday night.
“We found out early in MAC play that if we want to win, we have to play this way,” Head Coach Mark Montgomery said. “Along with Ball State, we are teams that hold opponents down to below what they usually score. It’s almost like seeing ourselves in a mirror with the way Ball State defends and how good they are at home.”
The Cardinals are 13-10 on the season, and 6-4 in the MAC. More importantly, they are 4-0 at home in conference play, holding teams to an average of just 60 points per game in those contests.
Offensively the Cardinals are very balanced with six players averaging more than 7.5 points per game. They are led in scoring by redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague, who checks in at 15.4 points per game and also leads BSU with 9.3 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8-inch, 215-pounder is the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague.
Also scoring in double figures for the Cardinals is junior guard Ishmael El-Amin, who scores at 13.4 per game clip. El-Amin also has a basketball connection as his father, Khalid El-Amin, won a National Championship with University of Connecticut in 1999 and spent a year with the Chicago Bulls before embarking on a long career overseas.
The Huskies, who handed Kent State University its first loss at home in January, are in great shape heading to Muncie. Their six-game winning streak is the team’s longest in MAC history, and the Huskies are holding teams to just 58.3 points per game over that stretch.
They also have a hot hand on offense in the way of senior guard Eugene German. German, who said after Friday’s win over Kent State that he is in a “rhythm,” has averaged just under 25 points per game over his past three games, shooting better than 50% from the field.
The game with Ball State begins a critical stretch for the Huskies, who will play four of their next five games on the road. NIU will travel Saturday to Miami University–Ohio, will host Central Michigan University on Feb. 22, then go back out on the road to face Eastern Michigan University and Western Michigan University on Feb. 25 and Feb. 29, respectively.
The game will be available on ESPN+.