KENT, Ohio - There were several undeniable facts for the Northern Illinois men's basketball team on Sunday. In a meeting with the best team in the Mid-American Conference West Division, Kent State showed the Huskies the difference between an established team and a team looking to become established. Kent State - heading for its seventh straight 20-win season - is battle-tested, more experienced, priming for a post-season run, and many steps ahead of NIU's program. That was noticeably apparent for the 3,476 fans in attendance at the M.A.C. Center. The Huskies had several highs and lows, shot poorly in key segments, turned the ball over way too much against a quality KSU team, and didn't have enough firepower to overcome an early deficit. The translation equaled a dejected Northern Illinois team heading back to DeKalb following a disappointing 67-55 loss to Kent State on Sunday. The two-game safari through Ohio resulted with back-to-back losses to the powers of the East, indicating the Huskies must be healthy and focused in order to topple the more established conference teams. The Huskies never tasted the lead once, or even forced a tie as the Golden Flashes led wire-to-wire. Kent State's aggressive trapping defense held the Huskies scoreless until Anthony Maestranzi's three-pointer at the 14:21 mark of the first half. “Kent State is a very good basketball team,” said NIU coach Rob Judson. “We didn't shoot well on three-pointers and turned the ball over.” The Huskies played without James Hughes, who suffered a mild concussion from a head injury in last Saturday's win over Western Michigan. Northern Illinois (13-9, 8-6) could've used Hughes in the middle against the Golden Flashes. The last time these teams met, Kent State guard Jay Youngblood scorched the Huskies for a season-high 27 points. Sunday, the Huskies started the game with a 2-3 zone defense to combat Youngblood's penetration. It worked but eventually backfired. Youngblood finished with five points, but guard DeAndre Haynes was unstoppable from beyond the arc. Haynes made 7-of-8 three-pointers for a game-high 24 points. As a team, the Golden Flashes (17-7, 11-2) shot just 37.5 percent. Minus Haynes, the Huskies held Kent State to 14-of-48 shooting (29 percent). “I just kept shooting and it was falling for me,” Haynes said. “It felt good to step up and hit some big threes for my team.” Haynes was hitting more than a few big threes. The senior from Detroit was the impetus behind Kent State's double-digit defeat of the Huskies. Armon Gates scored the first seven points of the game before Haynes took control. The second three by Haynes extended KSU's lead to 13-4. Later, with the Huskies mounting a set of comebacks, Haynes hit two back-breaking treys to squash both uprisings. Haynes swished a three with 36.9 left in the first half to put KSU ahead 34-24, and dealt the final blow with another triple with two seconds left on the shot clock to pad KSU's cushion (54-41) late in the game. “DeAndre stepped up today and he did what we want our seniors to do at this time of the year,” said Kent State coach Jim Christian. What was distressing about Sunday's loss was NIU's lack of execution immediately after the tip-off. The Huskies played flat and looked dysfunctional against Kent State's famed defense. The guards threw several careless passes and the offense didn't find a flow until Cory Sims scored seven of his team-high 14 points during a two-minute stretch after halftime. The Huskies compiled 15 turnovers on Sunday to bring their two-game total to 31 turnovers, and shot a frigid 28.6 percent on three-pointers. Todd Peterson's streak of hitting at least one three ended at 12 games. Sims said the Huskies just have to get back to basics. “We had a slow start,” Sims said. “They were trapping us, but eventually the guards got it going. We just have to get back to work. This was a tough loss and our shots weren't falling. We know we can do better.” Mike McKinney had another inconsistent game. The Huskies badly needed somebody to fill the void left by the absence of Hughes. McKinney made just one of his four shots and ended with three points and one rebound in 25 minutes. Northern Illinois got a combined 19 points from four of its five starters - Peterson, Maestranzi, McKinney and Craig Reichel. Zach Pancratz played a solid game off the bench. The sophomore buried three treys for 13 points and notched a pair of steals. Pancratz has hit 10 threes in the last four games, as the Huskies will need that type of consistent production from their bench down the stretch. “I was in a slump early in the season and just started shooting better lately,” Pancratz said. “None of that matters to me, though. I would rather have us win the game. We came out of Western Michigan and everything was great. We haven't hit rock bottom. We played two really good teams and we'll get better.” Bobby Narang can be reached at email@example.com.
Golden Flashes smash Huskies
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