DeKALB — Men’s basketball came away with a narrow 73-72 win over the defending Mid-American Conference champions, the University at Buffalo Bulls, coming down to the final seconds of the game.
"What a finish, wow," NIU Head Coach Mark Montgomery said in a press release. "We outplayed them; all of the numbers say that we outplayed them. We held them under 40 percent, under 30 percent from three. We have some things that we need to clean up, but it was a huge win and gives us some momentum heading to Central Michigan."
NIU had previously defeated Buffalo, then the 14th ranked team in the nation, by a score of 77-75 Jan. 22, 2019 at home. The game went to the final seconds as well, with current senior forward Noah McCarty hitting a clutch layup with 0.6 seconds remaining.
Senior guard Eugene German put on an outstanding performance for the Huskies, scoring 26 points on 58.8% shooting from the field, including 5-8 from beyond the arc. He recorded two rebounds, two assists and two steals as well.
Redshirt senior forward Lacey James contributed 18 points, a season-high, and 13 rebounds. James shot 77.8% from the field, including going 2-2 from the 3-point line.
Buffalo sophomore forward Jeenathan Williams led the Bulls with 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Buffalo junior guard Jayvon Graves added 16 points, six rebounds, four steals, and two blocks. Buffalo sophomore forward Josh Mballa had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The game was a historic one for German, as he moved to second on NIU’s men’s basketball’s all-time scoring list, above Donnell Thomas (1987-91). Thomas scored 1,853 points while at NIU. German currently has 1,859 career points.
As a team, NIU shot 53.7% from the field, while holding Buffalo to 34.8% shooting. The Huskies struggled from the free throw line, going a combined 6-14. A combination of poor shooting from the line and NIU’s 17 turnovers to Buffalo’s 6 likely contributed to the Bulls staying in the game until the final seconds.
With less than 4 minutes remaining in the second half, NIU held a 69-59 lead over Buffalo. At one point during the half, NIU controlled a 14-point lead over Buffalo.
The Huskies’ lead began to evaporate with just over 3 minutes reamining, started off by a 5-0 run from Buffalo senior guard Davonta Jordan, bringing the game to 69-64.
Mballa furthered the Bulls’ run with a dunk, cutting NIU’s lead to three and giving Jordan an assist.
McCarty fouled Graves, who had just stolen the ball from NIU junior guard Gairges Daow, which put him at the free throw line. Graves made both of his free throws, cutting NIU’s lead to one.
The Huskies finally found a way to make more separation on the scoreboard, courtesy of a dunk from James. This was NIU’s first basket in just over two minutes of play, with less than two minutes to go.
Mballa and Graves would both be sent to the line again, putting Buffalo up 72-71 with 34 seconds to go and capping off a 13-2 run.
With 20 seconds to go, Jordan fouled NIU sophomore guard Trendon Hankerson, putting him at the line. Hankerson had not played well up to this point, going 0-4 from the field, along with turning the ball over three times. He redeemed himself by sinking both free throws, his first points of the game, putting NIU up 73-72.
Jordan attempted a jumper with time winding down. The shot missed, and was picked up by McCarty, who was then fouled with three seconds remaining. McCarty missed the free throw, but NIU managed to grab the rebound before being fouled again.
McCarty went to the line again, missing again on his attempt, but with two seconds remaining, it wasn’t enough time for the Bulls to put up a shot, giving NIU the victory.
With the win, NIU begins MAC play with a 1-0 start. It brings NIU’s record to 8-6 on the season.
The Huskies return to the court 6 p.m. Jan. 11, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, against Central Michigan University.