Mid-day matinee MACtion never fails. I mean, think about it. You’re on a Zoom call or in an online lecture during the middle of a Tuesday afternoon and college basketball is on your television. What a blessing from the best conference in all of college athletics. Those blessings didn’t stop once the Northern Illinois vs. Akron game got underway on Tuesday.
The Zips jumped out to a sizable lead in the first few minutes of the game thanks to the three-ball and Bryan Trimble Jr. However, it was apparent from the opening tip-off that the Huskies had no quit in them. They were going to keep fighting regardless of the point margin, and fight is what they did.
Trendon Hankerson and Justin Lee led the way in scoring and Hankerson led in playing time with 40 minutes. Hankerson only left the floor at halftime and once the game finished yesterday, so hats off to Trendon for taking home the inaugural Huskies On Tap “Lunch Pail Player of the Game” award.
Following his 40-minute performance, Hankerson elaborated on the challenge.
“It’s tough for sure with a lot that’s going on outside of practice, I think it’s good, it’s a great opportunity for me to play and to coach my teammates up. I think we need that as much as possible, especially with the change that happened. To be unselfish I think I could still sit a few minutes here and there but honestly, I don’t mind it.”
The Zips saw leads of ten, eight, and seven points disappear throughout this contest but still led the Huskies 31-28 at the half. Down just three points heading into the locker room, the Huskies were right in the game. Second-half struggles have been a theme for NIU so far this season, but they were able to break that trend against Akron.
Despite a 5-0 Akron run to start the final 20 minutes and another eight-point deficit, the Huskies held strong thanks to 5/5 shooting from behind the arc in the second half and 57% overall. Justin Lee, who averaged one point per game coming into this contest, posted career highs in points (15) and rebounds (11) to record a double-double.
“I feel like I’ve always been prepared, it’s just being blessed with the opportunity to come back on the court and help my teammates out,” Lee said.
Thanks to a gutty performance, the Huskies ultimately notched their first conference win with just eight players against a team that has been a dominant force in MAC basketball for a few seasons now. Tuesday afternoon also marked the first victory for interim head coach Lamar Chapman.
“It feels great, just as I thought. We love the wins and they always feel great. It changes your mood, so I’m in a good mood, you know. Two o’clock game on a Tuesday, we won the game, the sun is shining so I feel good,” Chapman said of the victory.
Like Chapman, Huskies’ guard Darius Beane was in good spirits after the victory. He confirmed that the team drenched coach Chapman during the postgame celebration and also spoke about his clutch buzzer-beater that clinched the win for NIU.
“The play was to come up, get the ball, rip through and try and get to the basket, but I didn’t want to force it. It was kind of a tough night, so I told my teammates, ‘Imma shoot this one,’ and it went in. I had a rough night but my teammates picked me up, we got some great effort off the bench so it was a good game.”
All in all, it was a satisfying win for the Huskies, but they know there is still plenty of work to do.
Friendly reminder that we here at Huskies On Tap were the first to let you know that NIU was not going to lose against Akron, and the boys took care of business on the court to back it up.
What a way to start 2021 for the Huskies.
What’s On Tap Next?
The Huskies travel to Muncie, Indiana to take on the Ball State Cardinals this Saturday at 12 PM CT. NIU will look to add another tally to the win column against a team that just took down a very talented Bowling Green squad. While the Huskies record sits at 2-9, recording their first conference victory should lift some weight off their shoulders and allow them to play more freely as the season progresses.