DeKALB — With a seemingly comfortable lead with seven minutes to go, the only question that remained in Saturday's Northern Illinois men's basketball game against Miami was how Eugene German would break the program's all-time scoring record.
German answered that question in typical Eugene German fashion, driving hard to the rim and finishing a layup off the glass for his 18th point of the game with 6:39 to spare in an eventual 70-55 Huskies win over the RedHawks (9-12, 2-6 MAC).
“It’s just amazing," German said. "When I (saw) it go in, I’m like, 'wow, I just really did this.'"
The victory pushed NIU to 13-9 and 6-3 in the Mid-American Conference, the Huskies' best record over the first nine games of MAC play since the 2002-2003 season. German scored a game-high 21 points, tied a career-high with six assists, and also became the first player in program history to reach 2,000 points.
“All I was talking about last night was winning the game," coach Mark Montgomery said. "If the record came, great. If not, the most important thing is the win. You always like to get records at home, but I don’t think it was a silence code that we were just going to keep feeding you the ball, because we’re better when we have balance.”
The senior guard from Gary, Indiana not only broke T.J. Lux's scoring record (1,996) but tied his career-high with six assists.
He said he has taken the advice of coaches and professional scouts who have told him how he needed to elevate his game personally and for the sake of his team.
"I couldn’t do it these past few years without my teammate sand my coaches," German said. "It’s just a blessing."
Struggling to score on offense with seven points on 2 of 7 shooting in the first half, German created offense of his own in the second.
After Miami pulled within two points early in the second half, German jumped a passing lane to tip the ball away, collected it, and raced to the rim for an emphatic, one-handed slam and a 39-35 NIU lead, one of two steal and slam sequences for German in the second half, the latter pulling him within just two points of owning NIU's scoring record as the mood in the Convocation Center reached one of nervous anticipation as a steady murmur permeated the crowd.
“It’s a great feeling after all the hard work, especially being here for a couple years and just grinding it out, going through those tough times and we’re finally on top," redshirt senior forward Lacey James said. "But we’re not done yet. This is just one of the steps to the top of the mountain, but we didn’t set out the season to be 6-3.”
The Huskies couldn't seem to pull away more than seven points until run that began around the 13-minute mark of the second half, when German scored on a layup and then about a minute later made the first of his two dunks to increase NIU's lead to 47-35.
“The energy from the crowd creeped up," Darius Beane said. "We started playing defense a lot harder and that’s when he got those steals and that just led to more points."
German's game-changing ability was on full display, the product of many evenings where he spent time in the Convocation Center well past Saturday's late-afternoon finish.
“Many a night he’s closed this building where the lights were shutting off and he’s still in here," Montgomery said. "A lot of coaches, a lot of players came back to shoot with him, a lot of managers and I’m happy for him. He’s overcame some things through his career.”
Not that bumps haven't come along in the ride.
“The journey with him, it’s been a roller coaster,” Montgomery said. “I remember all the way back when I was recruiting him his junior year and he’s at some supposedly All-American camp in Georgia where he’s the only player in there. I had to take three planes to get there. But I think that showed him I made him a high priority.”
By the numbers: James had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Beane scored 13 points and had three assists. Nike Sibande scored a team-high 13 points.
Beyond the stats: When German was subbed out of the game with under a minute remaining, he embraced Montgomery, high-fived all of his Huskie teammates on the bench and sat down, raising his hand up to acknowledge his family, including German said "probably nine of my family members, my auntie, my mom and sister."
They said it: “My mom always told me it’s going to be alright," German said. "It’s going to be alright. Everything’s going to play out, just keep putting in work. That’s what I did. I didn’t come in here trying to achieve that goal, it just happened.
Up next: NIU plays at Toledo Tuesday.