Second-Half Shooting Splurge Powers Wildcats to Win over NIU



Nov. 12, 2010

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DeKALB, Ill. - The largest crowd to see a Northern Illinois basketball game in the NIU Convocation Center since 2005 saw a tightly-contested first half between Northern Illinois and visiting Northwestern turn into a second-half shooting exhibition by the Wildcats' John Shurna, giving NU a 97-78 season-opening victory over the Huskies.

Northern Illinois fell to 0-1 on the season while Northwestern opened 1-0.

Senior Xavier Silas (Austin, Texas/Brewster Academy) led the Huskies as he scored 25 points, including 12-of-12 from the free throw line, and pulled down six rebounds in 37 minutes. Newcomers Tim Toler (Avon, Ind./Avon/Danville Area CC) and Nate Rucker (Memphis, Tenn./Melrose HS) joined Silas in double figures with 12 and 11 points, respectively, while Rucker added six rebounds.

The Huskies shot 52 percent from the field, but gave up 17 offensive rebounds and committed 19 turnovers on the night.

Northern Illinois head coach Ricardo Patton said those two numbers, along with Northwestern's shooting, told the story of the game.

"The 19 turnovers, you just can't do that against a team that shoots the ball that well," Patton said. "Then the 17 offensive boards - the second-chance shots they got really hurt us. That breaks your back. Certainly, we are not going to face a team that shoots it like that very often."

Northwestern did the bulk of its damage in the second half when the Wildcats shot 55.6 percent from the field, led by the torrid marksmanship of junior John Shurna. Shurna scored 25 second-half points while shooting seven-of-eight from three-point range en route to a 31-point night. After hitting just one two-point field goal in the first half on one-of-five shooting, Shurna finished the game 9-of-16 from the floor and 7-of-10 on threes. He added nine rebounds. NU's Drew Crawford added 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, while Michael Thompson had 15 points for the Wildcats.

With an energetic crowd of 4,001 cheering them on, Northern Illinois point lead in the first six minutes of the first half to led 13-5 at the 14:16 mark. It was the largest NIU basketball crowd in the Convocation Center since Dec. 20, 2005 when 5,389 saw Northern Illinois defeat Kansas State, 75-70, in overtime.

Northwestern stormed back with a 12-5 run to take its first lead of the game at 11:03, and built a 10-point lead with 7:23 remaining, 28-18. In the last three minutes of the half, NIU cut the lead to two points at 35-33 on a layup by freshman Kyree Jones off an offensive rebound and the half ended with Northwestern holding onto a 43-38 lead.

Northwestern started the second half with back-to-back three-pointers by Shurna to turn its five-point halftime edge into a quick 11-point advantage at 49-38 just one minute into the period. Less than three minutes later, Shurna went back-to-back from three-point range again to put the Wildcats up by 17, 59-42.

By the time the clock stopped at 14:31, Northwestern had started the second half with an 18-4 run to open up a 22-point lead. The Huskies played catch-up the remainder of the game but could cut no deeper into the Wildcats' lead than 19 in the final minute.

Despite the loss, Patton said he was happy that the Huskies had a chance to play Northwestern as it will help prepare NIU for the road ahead, which includes non-conference match-ups versus Bradley, Missouri, DePaul and Iowa State.

"We have a tough non-conference schedule," he said. "Guys have to grow up quickly and grow up under fire. We had some people playing for the first time and some guys coming back off injury. This was a great test for us early to determine what we need to continue to work on. Overall, I really like the potential of this team."

The Huskies' next test comes Tuesday when Northern Illinois travels to Bradley for a 7 p.m. game in Peoria. The Huskies return home on Sunday, Nov. 21 with a 3 p.m. contest versus Cardinal Stritch.

-- NIU -



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