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NIU men's basketball: Huskies top Kent State in exciting MAC opener behind career-best performance from Levi Bradley

Bradley: '“I was just feeling good. We practiced extremely hard the past three days leading up to Kent State. We told ourselves we wanted this one.'

DeKALB – Levi Bradley hasn’t missed a game in his Northern Illinois career, playing in 80 straight contests.

NIU needed every bit of his career-best performance Tuesday against Kent State as the Huskies topped the Golden Flashes, 75-61, in their Mid-American Conference opener at the NIU Convocation Center.

Bradley scored 25 points, shot 14 for 14 from the free-throw line and grabbed 14 rebounds. His free-throw attempts, free-throw makes and rebounds all marked career highs. 

“I was just feeling good,” he said. “We practiced extremely hard the past three days leading up to Kent State. We told ourselves we wanted this one.” 

NIU (8-6, 1-0) and Kent State traded the lead 14 times throughout the game. The Huskies entered halftime with a 33-32 lead. 

No longer content with a slim lead, the Huskies went for the kill late in the second half. With 7:57 remaining, NIU went on an 8-0 run that lasted nearly three minutes and swung the momentum toward the Huskies. 

NIU coach Mark Montgomery was pleased with his team’s effort on the glass. The Huskies and Golden Flashes were tied with 20 rebounds each at halftime, but NIU ultimately outrebounded Kent State.

“We started rebounding and got out in transition,” Montgomery said. “We got pushes and layups that helped us build a lead. But really, everything came down to our first defensive key, which was rebounding and keeping them off the glass.”

Bradley acknowledged his career-best performance from the free-throw line, but agreed with Montgomery and said the key to victory was outrebounding the Golden Flashes.

“Coach told us keep them off the glass at all costs,” Bradley said. “We had to box them out at all costs. He said if we outrebound them, we win the game. He was right.” 

Kent State was led by Jaylin Walker and Kevin Zabo, who finished with 18 and 17 points, respectively.

The Huskies, however, limited the pair to a combined 10-of-31 shooting performance. 

“We tried to play gaps and help,” Montgomery said. “Our one-on-one defense was good, and that’s where success on defense starts.”

Growing up in Milwaukee, basketball came naturally for Bradley. His father, also named Levi, played college basketball at Division II Wisconsin-Parkside, where he ranks third all-time in scoring with 1,697 career points.  

Bradley said his dad always has been a big inspiration. 

“My pops … he’s a big influence. He taught me everything I know,” Bradley said. 

Bradley always has been a steady contributor for the Huskies. Entering Tuesday’s game, he was averaging 13.8 points, which marked him second best on the team behind leading scorer Eugene German. 

He has started every game this season and leads NIU in playing time with 28.8 minutes a game.

“Levi came out to play,” Dante Thorpe said of Bradley. “We always need a team effort and he’s a big contributor.” 

The Huskies continue MAC play when they travel to Ohio (7-6, 0-1) on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

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