DeKALB – With a small skid since beating Buffalo on Jan. 22, NIU coach Mark Montgomery said the Huskies have been missing the fire that led them to a 3-0 start in Mid-American Conference play.
“It’s how it is. You’ve kind of gotta bring energy,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes the building doesn’t give it to you. We have to bring our own; our guys have to be locked in.”
Four games and two straight home losses after the win over the Bulls, the Huskies are searching for answers after a 72-71 conference loss Tuesday to Ball State (12-11, 3-7) that brought NIU (12-11, 5-5) to a .500 record in conference play.
After Eugene German helped spark a run to tie the game late – German’s driving layup knotted the score at 71 with less than three seconds remaining – Lacey James fouled Ball State’s hot-shooting guard Tayler Persons with 1.9 seconds left. The senior appeared to think NIU was trailing for a moment.
“What I try to teach them is when they’re at the foul line, it’s [12.2] seconds to go, I always say it’s the guards’ responsibility when they make the basket, [say] ‘We’re down two, we only need a two,’ ” Montgomery said.
From his reaction on the floor, James knew his mistake the moment the whistle blew.
“I don’t know what Lacey was thinking, but obviously he went brain dead for a second, but he played an unbelievable game,” Montgomery said. “It’s unfortunate it had to end like that.”
The Huskies could not overcome the combined scoring of Persons (29 points) and Trey Moses, who scored a season-high 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 8 of 11 free throws.
“It’s not Lacey’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault. We not putting it on one person. It was multiple mistakes. [James] had  points,” German said. “I take more blame than Lacey takes any blame. Just keep his head up. He’s a gym rat anyway, so I know he’s gonna bounce back. He’s good; he’s a strong man.”
With NIU struggling to find offensive rhythm, freshman point guard Trendon Hankerson turned over the ball on consecutive offensive possessions as the Huskies looked sluggish to start the second half. NIU picked up the energy too little, too late.
“It was a lot like lack of energy. We weren’t talking how we used to talk on defense. It was like we went out there and didn’t want to play [Tuesday],” German said.
NIU hits the road Saturday to play Eastern Michigan.