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NIU

Men's basketball: Huskies ready to take on Kent State in MAC tournament

Montgomery: 'We have to win one game – just one game at a time. This is what March is all about. We’ve got to survive and live for another day.'

NIU guard Eugene German (10) hits a jumper late in the 4th quarter of play against the Ball State Cardinals in DeKalb Mar. 2.
NIU guard Eugene German (10) hits a jumper late in the 4th quarter of play against the Ball State Cardinals in DeKalb Mar. 2.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery walked into his office Saturday morning and gathered all of the film compiled from his team’s road games this season. 

The film showed a Huskie squad that won only one road game all year, went winless during conference away games and complied a 2-14 record in contests played away from the Convocation Center.  

NIU (13-18, 6-12 Mid-American) will be on the road again Monday when it begins MAC tournament play at Kent State. But the Huskies won’t be using much film to prepare for the Golden Flashes; Montgomery destroyed the DVDs and film he found. 

“We’re going to hit the reset button,” Montgomery said. “Everyone is 0-0. We have to win one game – just one game at a time. This is what March is all about. We’ve got to survive and live for another day.” 

NIU defeated Kent State, 75-61, during its lone meeting earlier this season in the MAC opener. Besides that 14-point win, four of the past five games between the two teams have been decided by five points or fewer.

Montgomery said he expects another close game Monday between the No. 12 seed Huskies and No. 5 seed Golden Flashes (15-16, 9-9). 

“Whenever we play Kent State, it always comes down to the very end of the game,” Montgomery said. “They’ve had eight games this season decided by three or less points. We’re going to have to go in there and do what we do best. We have to take care of the ball and defend.” 

The Huskies are coming off an impressive 66-65 win over Ball State during their regular-season finale Friday. Sophomore guard Eugene German propelled the Huskies to victory behind his game-winning shot from the top of the key, part of his game-high 25-point performance. 

Entering Friday’s game, NIU lost its past three games by a combined 68 points. German said the win was much-needed as the Huskies head into the first round of the MAC tournament. 

“We were in the mud with our losing streak,” he said. “This was a very big win for us. It gives us confidence.” 

Junior forward Levi Bradley, who grabbed a career-best 17 rebounds during the win, said the Huskies have seen a lot of low points throughout their season. 

Despite NIU winning only two games away from home, Bradley is confident his team can turn its struggles around at the most important time of the year. He said the Huskies’ biggest opponent is themselves.

“We’ve been through it all,” Bradley said. “We’ve been embarrassed time and time again. But our team has showed a lot of resiliency, and that’s what’s going to help us going into the MAC tournament. We can play with anybody. We’ve just got to fight. It’s about us.” 

When the Huskies tip off against Kent State, they might be without backup point guard Justin Thomas, who didn’t practice Saturday and was seen in a walking boot on his left foot. Thomas twisted his ankle against Ball State on Friday and had to be helped off the court. He has been a reliable backup to German – Thomas averages 6.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists a game. 

Shooting guard Dante Thorpe also continues to play through a shoulder injury that will require surgery at the end of the season. 

Montgomery hopes to have surprise players step up come tournament time.

“Whoever is in the game, it matters,” Montgomery said. “Of course our best players have to play well. But we’re going to need a team effort. Sometimes the best player in tournament play will be someone who hasn’t shown up recently in a box score. We need everyone.” 

Tipoff between NIU and Kent State is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday.

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