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MAC Men’s Basketball Recap: Northern Illinois Huskies at South Florida Bulls

Northern Illinois might finally be getting it after beating South Florida, 59-48.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the season, I am looking to see how I think MAC teams are going to progress throughout the conference season. Unless you can get a white whale or two, or a mostly flawless record, the non conference schedule means nothing. It’s just practice until the conference slate.

Northern Illinois, like most every MAC team this season, has some nice parts, but hasn’t really put it together. They need an identity, they need to believe in that identity, and then they can be successful.

Tonight gave me clarity on where I would like to see them go.

The big story coming into the game was that USF guard Jahmal McMurray requested a transfer, and it was granted. McMurray was the Bulls leading scorer, at 20.3 points per game, but was suspended for 6 games. Why he left and what it means is all speculation at this point, but what is a fact is that he didn’t play in this game. Certainly that benefited the Huskies.

NIU, always a solid defensive team, held the Bulls to 48. Not a huge surprise, seeing how 20+ points a game was taking their talents out of Tampa. We can speculate that he might have been the difference maker, since the Bulls lost by 11. At the end of the day, who won or lost this game isn’t as important as what I saw that I actually loved.

First, what I didn’t like. There was a lid on both baskets. NIU shot 54.2% from the free throw line. They were the better free throw shooting team. Neither team reached 40% from the floor. While the Bulls were an abysmal 23.1% from three point land, the Huskies did manage to hit 6 out of 13, for 46.2%. To be fair, one of those was banked in. Probably not on purpose.

Marin Maric grabbed 11 rebounds, while Levi Bradley added 10 for the Huskies. While I liked that effort, USF ended up out rebounding the Huskies, 44-38. NIU had 7 assists to 13 turnovers, not good. However, it was better than the 11 assists to 21 turnovers by the Bulls. So that part of the game, I liked.

What I loved is how the Huskies drove the ball to the basket. No one had a blow it out of the park all time great game for the Huskies. In fact, I would say every player had an average game statistically, or worse. Bradley had 13 points on 5-12 shooting. Aric Armstead had 11 on 4-12 shooting. Maric’s 7 points came on 2-6 shooting. Marshawn Wilson was the only guy over 10 points for the Huskies that shot over 50%.

The Huskies had a bad game, but still won. It’s because those drives to the basket frustrated the Bulls. It broke down the defense and gave the Huskies second chance points. It put the Bulls on their heels.

With the way they shot, and being on the road, Northern Illinois had no business winning this game. They did, and that’s optimism for their MAC season. Fortune rewards the audacious. Keep driving to the hoop.