DeKALB — The men’s basketball team headed to the west coast for the first time since 1997 for a two-game California swing, but they won’t be bringing back an extension of their six-game winning streak with them.
The Huskies first game on the trip was Thursday against Saint Mary’s College of California, when they took on the 29th-ranked Gaels with NIU’s winning streak on the line. While the Huskies kept it close in the second half, trailing by just four points with little over 11 minutes to go, Saint Mary’s closed the game with a 16-9 run to improve to 9-1 with a 61-49 win.
The Huskies, now 6-3 on the year, found themselves in a 19-5 hole early in the game when SMC redshirt junior forward Malik Fitts canned a 3-point shot with just under nine minutes to go before halftime.
However, the Huskies were able to recover and paced by eight points from senior guard Eugene German; they cut the lead to 30-22 at the break.
In the second half, the Huskies defense tightened as it at one point held the Gaels without a field goal for more than eight minutes. The Huskies were unable to capitalize, but got the score too 44-40 on a jumper by German with 11:30 minutes to go.
Once again, the Huskies defense was stout for most of the game. Playing a team that went 22-12 last season and appeared in the 2019 NCAA tournament, the Huskies held the Gaels to 39% shooting overall and 35% from behind the 3-point arc. The difference in the game came from SMC’s 21 points off of 13 Huskie turnovers
“Saint Mary’s came in shooting [51%] from the field, [45%] from three, and we held them under [40%] from the field and [35% from three],” NIU head coach Mark Montgomery said in a release. “We battled those guys tooth and nail; we were right there in the ballgame.
German led the Huskies with 16 points and was the only player in double-figure scoring for NIU, with redshirt senior forward Lacey James scoring nine points and a team-high seven rebounds. SMC redshirt senior guard Tanner Krebs led four Gaels in double figures with 14 points, while Fitts had 13 points and a game-high 12 boards.
The Huskies’ California trip concludes Saturday when NIU plays the University of California–Davis Aggies. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at The Pavilion at ARC.