Long drought haunts NIU in home loss to Miami

DeKALB – NIU interim men’s basketball coach Lamar Chapman said his Huskies go through a scoring drought pretty much every game, and on Saturday against Miami it proved too much to overcome.

The RedHawks had an almost 11-minute stretch in which they scored 25 of the game’s next 32 points, then held off the Huskies late to hand NIU a 69-64 loss in the Huskies’ first home game since Jan. 12.

“We have one of those every game,” Chapman said. “This particular game it came ... when we had 22. I think we went five, five and a half minutes without scoring a basket. I thought some of those were makeable. But we have one of those a game. It’s just a matter when it’s going to creep up on us.”

Chapman said trying to combat the droughts has been a focal point for the team, which was playing its third game back since having seven games postponed due to COVID-19 issues on the team.

“You can show it, you can talk about it, and hope you don’t get it the next time,” Chapman said. “If you have a drought, maybe it’s not as long. The guys are aware of it. We talk about it. If we have one of those droughts we go over it possession by possession, and try to grade the shot. A lot of times, they’re good shots. Guys are right there by the basket, they just don’t get the bounce or the roll.”

Saturday’s version of the drought came after the Huskies (2-13 overall, 1-9 MAC) built a 22-15 lead with 7:50 left in the first half after a layup by Kaleb Thornton. They didn’t score for another 3:30, and their next field goal didn’t come until Zool Kueth hit a 3-pointer with 1:58 left, tying the game at 27.

The surge for the RedHawks (9-9, 6-7) lasted until the second half, when they built a 40-29 lead.

The lead grew to as large as 14, and the Huskies got to within 62-60 after a pair of free throws by Kueth with 2:41 left, but never got that close again.

“We got it to two, and it felt like we battled and we had to just get over that hump,” Kueth said. “It just felt like we couldn’t get over it.”

After Kueth’s free throws, Dalonte Brown converted a layup, then the Huskies turned the ball over and committed a foul down the other end, sending Dae Dae Grant to the line to score two of his 26 points in the game.

NIU guard Anthony Crump got a layup in the final minute to get it to 66-62, but with 29 seconds left Grant drained a 3-pointer to ice the game.

“The mindset is to get not only a stop, but a stop and a score,” said Trendon Hankerson, who scored a career-best 22 for the Huskies. “That was you cover both ends of the floor. But obviously we struggled doing that most of the game. So when we were down two we also struggled to get a stop and a score.”

Not only was it the first home game for NIU in five weeks, it was the first time they were playing in front of fans – family members have been permitted to attend NIU home games this month.

Hankerson said that made it surprising that the Huskies came out with what he called low energy.

“I just thought it was considerably low considering we had fans in the building,” Hankerson said. “It was our first home in a while, and I thought we would have brought a little more energy. I don’t know what it was, I just think we struggled today with that.”

By the numbers: Only five RedHawks scored, compared to every Huskie who played scoring. Tyler Cochran had 11 despite foul trouble in the second half, and Kueth had 10. Chinedu Kingsley Okanu had eight points and eight rebounds for the Huskies.

Beyond the stats: Grant almost doubled his scoring average in the win. He scored 12 when the teams last met on Jan. 9.

They said it: “They did a good job of driving and kicking to him,” Hankerson said. “Our closeouts weren’t hard enough - or maybe they were too hard because he got to the basket sometimes too. Credit to him, they found him, and he knocked down some shots today.”

Up next: The Huskies host Buffalo at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Eddie Carifio

Has been the sports editor in DeKalb since 2014.