DeKALB — Like NIU's previous two games, the Huskies allowed a double-digit second half lead to be whittled down to nearly nothing, but this time, the Huskies sealed the deal in a 71-68 victory over Eastern Michigan Saturday.
Noah McCarty played his part against Eastern Michigan's lengthy zone defense, scoring a season-high 14 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out three assists as a vital cog in the middle.
“We’ve got to be able to extend that lead and just put them away and give them no will at coming back. So that’s what we need to focus on and do better," McCarty said. "Same thing happened at Central. Same thing happened at Buffalo. It’s starting to become a trend and we don’t want that to start happening because later down the line, it’s going to catch us.”
EMU's Noah Morgan made a bucket through contact to cut the Eagles' deficit three, but missed the free throw, only for teammate Yeikson Montero to put the offensive rebound up and in as the Eagles (10-6, 0-3 Mid-American Conference) found themselves trailing 67-66 with 23.1 seconds remaining in the game.
“Noah Morgan came off the bench and knocked down a couple threes," Montgomery said. "They got to the foul line so they stopped the clock. They got a turnover in the backcourt where we just fell asleep. They start being a lot more aggressive, but they’re in the bonus so it’s like you have to play on eggshells, and they made some shots.”
But Rod Henry-Hayes made three of his next four free throws and grabbed a critical defensive rebound to help clinch the win for NIU (9-7, 2-1 MAC).
“Thank God Rod Henry-Hayes made his free throws," Montgomery said.
EMU's Boubacar Toure slammed home an alley-oop pass from Shamar Dillard as the Eagles inched closer fromdown 18 to down 10 (56-46), but after the Eagles missed the front end of a one-and-one, Eugene German pulled up from NBA range from the left wing in front of the Huskie bench to push NIU's lead back to 13, 59-46 with 4:36 remaining in the contest.
McCarty's embraced the challenge of battling with the 7-foot-tall Toure.
“It’s real difficult to emulate how you want to go at someone that’s that size and that reach and he’s pretty athletic too for being that big," McCarty said. Your mindset is just to be aggressive and whatever happens, I’m going to make the right play.”
The Huskies achieved offensive success in the first half when getting the ball in the middle of the zone around the free throw line. Noah McCarty and Lacey James hit free-throw line jumpers on NIU's first two possessions of the second half as NIU went up 36-24.
“Noah McCarty made some shots, made some moves, made some passes," Montgomery said. All that’s going to do is build some confidence for him.”
Nathan Scott scored two quick buckets in succession before the Huskies hit the first media timeout of the second half, the latter on the fast break as NIU went up 44-29 at the 15:29 mark.
Beane helped put the Huskies up twice late in the first half, assisting Noah McCarty with a simple bounce pass for an easy bucket, and hitting a 3-pointer to put NIU ahead 26-24 with 2:32 left in the first half. NIU took a 32-24 lead into half.
“If they’re going to guard German out at the NBA line, I thought it was just getting whoever was at high post comfortable where he can take that turnaround jump shot and once our guys get comfortable taking that, it opened some things up," Montgomery said.
By the numbers: NIU's biggest lead at one point was 18 points, 56-38. EMU led Division I in steals per game coming in (11.8), but tallied only eight steals. The Huskies posted a season-high 18 assists, led by German's six. Beane also had four assists and seven points. German is now at 1,896 points for his career, 100 behind program all-time leader T.J. Lux. The Huskies had 25 points off the bench.
Beyond the stats: Both Henry-Hayes (MRI on foot, no significant injury) and Nathan Scott (fracture in hand) have battled recent injuries that kept them out of action.
They said it: Coach always says go at our pace," German said. Go fast, but don’t let them speed us up. We always go with the flow of the game, push when we need to push, slow the game down when we need to slow the game down. That’s our No. 1 priority right now.”
Up next: NIU welcomes Akron to the Convocation Center Tuesday. EMU hosts Ball State Tuesday.