DeKALB – NIU gutted out a 57-54 victory over visiting Kent State to run its win streak to six games.
“You could tell right away that this game was going to come down to the wire,” Huskies coach Mark Montgomery said. “Our guys have definitely bought into who we are, what we are, what we must do.”
The Huskies were clinging to a one-point lead late in the game when Tyler Cochran got behind the Golden Flashes' full-court press and hit a layup with 13 seconds left, pushing the NIU lead to three points.
“It felt good,” Cochran said. “I was [having] struggles with my shooting, but my teammates were always picking me up.”
Cochran was 3 for 13 from the field before that basket.
The Golden Flashes had a last chance to tie the game, but Danny Pippen’s 3-pointer clanked off the rim and NIU’s Gairges Daow pulled down the rebound as the buzzer sounded.
The game was tightly contested throughout, with neither team achieving more than a six-point lead.
The Huskies (15-9, 8-3 Mid-American Conference) looked to be going up big after Lacey James knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 50-44 advantage with 4:46 left in the game.
“It felt good to finally get one down,” James said.
James had eight points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
However, the Golden Flashes (16-8, 6-5) responded by hitting two 3s on their next two possessions to tie the game at 50-all.
The Huskies pushed the lead back up to four points, but Kent State wouldn't go away, tying the game at 54 with 55 seconds left in the game.
Eugene German knocked down one of two free throws to give the Huskies a one-point edge before Cochran’s final score.
German took control on offense for the Huskies, pouring in 27 points to go along with six boards and no turnovers.
“I’m in my rhythm now,” German said. “I’ve been trying to find my rhythm. Ever since I got my 2,000th point, I’ve been in my rhythm. You just got to keep grinding out.”
The MAC rivals went almost shot for shot the entire first half. The biggest lead of the half was four points by the Huskies. The Golden Flashes' biggest lead in the half was three points. The teams traded the lead 10 times.
There was a scary moment with 13 minutes left in the first half as Kent State’s Mitch Peterson took a charge from Zaire Mateen and laid motionless after hitting the ground hard. Team trainers put a neck brace on him, and he was taken out on a stretcher, but was back with the team by the end of the game.
By the numbers: NIU held Kent State to 54 points, 23 points below the Golden Flashes' average this season. They came in scoring 77 points a game.
Beyond the stats: With the win tonight, the Huskies have their first six-game MAC winning streak in program history.
They said it: “It feels amazing [to be on a six-game win streak], man,” German said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve never been on a team like this. Everyone is dedicated and just hungry.”
Up next: The Huskies travel to Ball State at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Kent State hosts Ohio at noon Feb. 15.