Feb. 20, 2010
CHARLESTON, Ill. - Junior center Sean Kowal poured in a game-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and the Huskies held host Eastern Illinois scoreless for more than three minutes to tie the score (69-69) with just 47 seconds remaining, but the Panthers held off the rally, posting a 73-70 win over the Northern Illinois men's basketball team Saturday night in an ESPNU BracketBusters game at Lantz Arena.
After falling behind 69-62 with 3:55 remaining, the Huskies (8-18) out-scored the Panthers (16-11) 7-0 over the ensuing 3:08, erasing a deficit that had reached 12 points with just over six minutes remaining. The Huskies then had a chance to either tie or take the lead with 3.4 seconds remaining, after sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson was fouled while shooting a three-pointer from the left corner.
Anderson converted the third attempt, but missed the previous two, and EIU's Curry McKinney drilled two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to secure the three-point win. The Panthers, who overcame a nine-point first half deficit to the Huskies, held a convincing 42-30 rebounding advantage, and scored 15 points off second-chance opportunities. NIU committed just nine turnovers, but shot only 34.4 percent in the second half. There were a combined 10 ties and lead changes in the game.
Kowal's 20 points led all scorers - he was joined in double figures by Xavier Silas (19 points), and Mike DiNunno, who scored 11 points, and dished out four assists against zero turnovers. Eastern Illinois was paced by leading scorer Tyler Laser's 19 points, leading a foursome of Panthers with double-digit scoring outputs. NIU's primary ball handlers, Anderson, DiNunno and Bryan Hall, combined for 11 assists versus just one turnover in the setback.
"We almost pulled this one out tonight; we put ourselves in a position to win the ball game late with some ball pressure and good offensive execution," said NIU head coach Ricardo Patton
. "Obviously we came up short, and that's disappointing. We didn't shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter, but we threw the ball inside to (Sean) Kowal, and he was big for us. He's really coming into his own, and I'm excited to see him continue to improve down the stretch of the season."
"There's still a lot of basketball left," Patton added. "We need to get back home, continue to work and build on some of the things we've done well over the last five games, even though those things haven't resulted in wins. I thought our 1-3-1 zone defense was effective tonight, especially considering it was the first night we used it. We'll certainly continue to work on that, along with better ways to score the basketball."
Playing almost exclusively in a 1-3-1 zone defense for the first time this season, the Huskies were able to tally seven steals, and force EIU into nine early turnovers, leading to a one-point (35-34) lead at halftime. NIU came out of the gate firing, jumping to an 8-2 lead and forcing the Panthers into their first timeout just 2:05 into the game. But EIU battled right back, pulling within two (10-8) at the first media timeout (15:25).
After the Panthers built a seven-point lead, the Huskies tied the game (23-23) at the second media timeout (7:58). Michael Patton and DiNunno each converted three-pointers in the stretch. DiNunno's second three, with 4:58 remaining, gave the Huskies a 28-26 lead, and forced Eastern Illinois into its second timeout. The advantage eventually ballooned to a 35-26 margin after seven-consecutive points by NIU.
But Laser answered with seven-straight points of his own, and forced the Huskies into their second timeout (:24) with just a two-point edge, 35-33. A free throw by Zavier Sanders with 1.9 seconds left in the stanza made the score 35-34 at intermission.
The Panthers scored the first eight points of the second half, extending their run to a convincing 16-0 count, dating back to the tail end of the first frame, and opened up a 42-35 lead. After back-to-back converted field goals by Kowal, the Huskies trimmed the deficit to just three (44-41) at the 13:40 mark.
But Eastern Illinois kept attacking, and claimed its first double-digit advantage (53-43) with 10:56 remaining following a field goal by Edin Suljic. Five-consecutive points by Silas kept NIU within five (53-48), but EIU countered with a commanding 12-5 spurt, and claimed a 12-point lead (65-53), its largest of the game, with 6:24 remaining.
NIU allowed the Panthers to score just four more points over the ensuing 5:48, and began clawing back. A conventional three-point play by Kowal, followed by a transition three-pointer from DiNunno, quickly made the deficit manageable, 65-59, with 5:50 left. EIU went back up by seven (69-62) after two free throws by Ousmane Cisse, but would not score again until the clock read 36 seconds remaining. Kowal had two more field goals in the stretch to help officially erase the deficit.
McKinney hit two free throws with 36 seconds remaining to push the Panthers back ahead, 71-69. Anderson was then fouled by Laser with just 3.4 seconds left, and missed the first two attempts from the charity stripe. After McKinney drilled two more free throws to extend the lead to three, NIU turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound, and did not successfully get a shot off.
Northern Illinois will jump back into Mid-American Conference West Division play next Wednesday (Feb. 24), when the Huskies host Central Michigan at the Convocation Center beginning at 7 p.m.