Men’s basketball: Ohio hands NIU its third straight loss

Northern Illinois’s Ethan Butler, right, gets fouled as he takes a shot in the second half by Ohio’s Aidan Hadaway during the game on Saturday Feb. 24, 2024, at The Convocation Center in DeKalb.

DeKALB — After a mid-February win over Buffalo, the NIU men’s basketball team had won three of four games and seemed like maybe it was making a move toward securing a berth in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

But on Saturday, Ohio handed the Huskies their third straight loss, 80-59. NIU remained in 11th place in the MAC, three games behind Kent State for the final spot in Cleveland with four to play.

The Huskies started the season 6-1 but have lost 18 of their last 21 games.

“Today was just a microcosm of the season,” coach Rashon Burno said. “I thought we had the right intentions for the first 8 to 12 minutes of the game and then, you know, fatigue sets in and you can’t really go to your bench for guard substitutions. That really put us in a tough spot.”

Saturday was the first game since Feb. 7 that NIU played with regular starters Yanic Konan Niederhauser, David Coit and Xavier Amos. The Huskies (9-18, 3-11) were still without Philmon Gebrewhit, who missed seven straight games before playing four minutes Tuesday against Ball State, and Zarique Nutter, who missed his second straight game.

Amos ended up leaving the game in the second half, and Burno said he’s not sure of the status of any of the missing payers.

“I’ll find out tonight and hopefully we’ll have more intel tomorrow,” Burno said. “But it’s, you know, whoever shows up to practice on Monday, that’ll be the team we practice with and go to Toledo with.”

They’ve been without Keshawn Williams all season, who was expected to be the team’s leading scorer. But he’s played 14 minutes total this season.

The Huskies’ last lead came after an Amos layup put them up 19-17 with 8:30 left in the first half. But the Bobcats (15-12, 9-5) scored the next 11 points in less than three minutes and never led by fewer than seven again.

After AJ Clayton slammed home a dunk 50 seconds into the second half for a 36-26 lead, the Bobcats never led by fewer than 10 again. The margin grew to as much as 75-47 with 4:31 left.

“Coming out of halftime, talking to the guys, I thought their intentions were good,” Burno said. “Then we got to the floor and they went on an 8-0 run. Then something we figured out the last four or five games came back and bit us in the butt. ... We didn’t have the legs or energy to compete in the second half.

Coit put up 27 in the loss after putting up 28 in a 70-63 loss to Ball State on Tuesday. Will Lovings-Watts chipped in 10. Four Bobcats scored at least 10, led by Aidan Hardway and Miles Brown each posting 17.

No NIU players were made available to the media on Saturday.

While the injuries have definitely taken their toll on the Huskies, Burno said, there have been other issues leading to the team’s struggles this year.

“You get into the crux of the season and your toughness has to show,” Burno said. “Once we got into conference play, first game we lose Nutter for four games with a concussion, then it was just a downhill spiral with guys in and out of the lineup. But some of it is a chemistry thing and some of it just getting the right guys to understand how tough mentally you have to be at this level.”

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