Stingy Defensive Effort Comes up Short at Eastern Michigan, 66-60
Feb. 27, 2010
YPSILANTI, Mich. - Junior guard Darion "Jake" Anderson recorded his third double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Sean Kowal was just one point shy of his second-straight double-double, but the Northern Illinois men's basketball team collectively missed 16 free throws, and fell short in a 66-60 decision at Eastern Michigan Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
The Huskies (9-19, 5-10 MAC) held statistical advantages over EMU (16-13, 8-7) in field goals (22-18), three-pointers (7-4), rebounds (53-52) and blocks (10-4), but were whistled for a season-high 35 personal fouls. Northern Illinois went 9-for-25 from the free throw line, while the Eagles recorded a 26-of-48 effort. The Huskies committed just nine turnovers in the game, including only three miscues in the second half.
In a defensive-minded battle that saw a combined 19 ties and lead changes, the Huskies owned a game-high seven-point lead with just over 10 minutes remaining. But led by its senior tandem of point guard Carlos Medlock and forward Justin Dobbins, the Eagles quickly erased the deficit, and out-scored the Huskies 17-12 over the final 4:37, including 12 free throws.
Junior guard Xavier Silas' 19 points led the Huskies in scoring for the 16th time this season - Anderson joined him in double figures, while Kowal scored nine points to go along with a career-high 13 rebounds. Eastern Michigan was led by Medlock, who scored a game-high 25 points and corralled a team-high tying 11 rebounds. Dobbins turned in a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards.
Seven of Kowal's 13 rebounds were from the offensive glass. The Huskies were playing without starting forward Lee Fisher, who did not make the trip to Ypsilanti after spraining his ankle at the end of the Central Michigan game on Wednesday.
"We can point to a lot of things in this game," said NIU head coach Ricardo Patton. "We took care of the basketball, only committing nine turnovers, and played some very hard on the defensive end. But the bottom line is that you've got to make free throws. When you struggle as badly as we did from the free throw line today, it shows a lack of focus and toughness. Our guys have got to step to the line, and knock down free throws.
"That was absolutely the story of the game (today). We go 9-for-25 from the free throw line, and lose by six; that's not how you win on the road. We had a statistical advantage in every significant category besides free throw attempts, and free throw percentage. It's an incredibly tough way to lose a ball game, but we didn't control the things we know we can control, and that starts with being mentally tough."
Eastern Michigan jumped out to a commanding 8-2 lead just over three minutes into the game, but NIU answered with an 8-1 run, and took a 10-9 lead with 13:16 remaining in the frame after two free throws by Kowal. EMU re-claimed the lead 20 seconds later, and held at least a one-point edge for the ensuing 11 and a half minutes.
Silas' first field goal came with 2:23 left in the first half, and after a block by reserve forward Michael Fakuade, Silas scored again, this time in transition, to trim the Eagles' lead to just one (20-19) with 1:54 left. Michael Patton split 1-of-2 free throws at the 1:29 mark, tying the game at 20-10, heading into the locker room at halftime. Both teams shot less than 30 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
After sitting much of the first half due to foul trouble, Anderson came out aggressive early in the second frame, scoring four quick points on dribble penetration to help the Huskies claim a 27-26 lead at the first media timeout (15:07) of the second half. The lead changed six times in the ensuing 4:19, before the Huskies made a run to claim a 43-36 lead with 10:03 remaining.
The spurt began a transition layup by Anderson. After a missed free throw that would have completed a conventional three-point play, Kowal corralled the offensive rebound, kicked the ball out to Silas in the left corner, and he drilled a three-pointer to push NIU's lead to 39-34. Silas hit another three with 10:29 remaining, offsetting a layup by EMU's Jay Higgins.
After Fakuade split two free throws to extend the Huskies' lead to seven, the Eagles answered with six-straight points to pull within just one, 43-42, with 8:23 remaining. But Tony Nixon countered with his lone field goal of the game, a three-pointer, followed by a drive and finish by Mike DiNunno, to push NIU's lead to 48-42, and force EMU into the first called timeout of the game (7:16).
The Eagles went on a commanding 8-0 run over the next 2:42, and pulled ahead of the Huskies by two, 50-48, at the 3:39 mark. NIU didn't score again until the clock read 1:06, falling behind by as many as nine points during the flurry. The Huskies were still within striking distance, with a chance to trim the lead from five (65-60) to at least three with 18 seconds remaining, but Kowal missed both free throws.
Northern Illinois will look to complete the regular season sweep over MAC-West foe Toledo next Thursday, when the Huskies host the Rockets at the Convocation Center beginning at 7 p.m. "Senior Day" festivities will be held - the program will be honoring seniors Ante Dzepina and Najul Ervin prior to the contest.
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