DeKALB — Noah McCarty is willing to hit somebody.
He may be on the basketball court, but willing to be physical and methodical are just two of the characteristics that have the Huskies at 2-1 in the MAC and 9-7 overall.
“This is the best defensive team that I’ve been on in my four years here," McCarty said. "We’ve had a lot of talent. Just based off that, we know that we can play defense. If our offense can play as well as our defense, any given night we know we can be a top team in the MAC.”
When McCarty scored tied a career-high with 14 points in NIU's 71-68 victory over EMU Saturday, it was only the second time McCarty had reached double-digits this season, and the seventh time he had done so in his career. It also is his new career-high. But he was more concerned about another aspect of the game following the win.
“Rebounding is also a lot about toughness,' McCarty said. "If you’re willing to go hit somebody and go get the ball, then I think me, Lacey (James) and Chris (Johnson), Nate (Scott) even though Nate might be undersized weight wise, he’s going to go hit somebody. As long as you’re willing to go do that, it’s going to happen.”
Through three MAC games the 6 foot, 8 inch senior forward from Rock Falls is averaging 9.0 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 2.3 rebounds per game. Two of McCarty's three games of playing 30 minutes or more have come in the Huskies last two contests.
It is the senior's defense that is making a difference this season. When it comes to rebounding, McCarty said everyone has to be on task to make a difference. The Huskies, as of games through Jan. 10, stood 59th out of 350 Division I teams in terms of best field goal defense allowed (39.6%) and 43rd in 3-point field goal defense (29.1%), meaning teams have had to grind for every point they've had against the Huskies this season.
That's as good a sign as any that McCarty has solidified his role as a starter, namely for his defensive impact.
'He’s growing from coming off the bench to starting," NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. "Now certain games he has to play 25 to 30 minutes. He’s growing with his leadership. He’s a senior now. He’s been around. You can hear him in huddles. He’s definitely locked in in practices where he doesn’t drift. It’s part of the maturation process where over time you’ve been in the league. You’ve been places. You’ve been in close games ... He’s benefiting from his experience.”
German has a certain way of describing his Huskie teammates who are willing to scrap for rebounds.
“We got dogs," German said. "We don’t care about height or none of that. We’ve got dogs. We always say we got Noah McCarty. We got Lacey. You see my rebounds went down. We got dogs down there that (are) going to fight down there.”
While German has led NIU in scoring in 15 of NIU's 16 games this season, the Huskies have began to see other players emerge in games in MAC play, whether it was 18 points from Trendon Hankerson against Green Bay, 14 and 18 from Lacey James against Central Michigan or and Buffalo, respectively.
"We know we have a lot of talent on this team as I’ve said," McCarty said. "Lacey can go get 15 a night. I know I can score the ball. Nate can shoot the ball. Rod (Henry-Haye) can come off the bench and hit some clutch shots. (German) can score the ball. Any given night somebody can come give us 12, 13 and give us a boost.”
McCarty's biggest boost is provided on the defensive end, and he said he's hopeful to contribute to more wins, as the Huskies haven't posted a winning MAC record in any of his first three seasons.
“Defense travels. It’s like in the NFL," McCarty said. The running game goes on the road. Defense goes everywhere. We’ve just got to be able to play defense and our offense is going to come with (us). I think we’re going to win a lot of games that way.”