Nov. 28, 2009
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - The Northern Illinois men's basketball team (1-4) recorded a gritty defensive performance, limiting host Northern Iowa (4-1) to just a 34 percent shooting effort, but the Panthers jumped out to a nine-point halftime lead, and held on for a 52-45 win over the Huskies at the McLeod Center Saturday night. The Huskies' defensive field goal percentage was the lowest in the Ricardo Patton era at NIU.
Northern Illinois was whistled for 25 personal fouls, compared to just nine mishaps for the Panthers. The Huskies were also limited to a sub-par shooting effort (32.5 percent), but shot a season-best 75 percent (6-of-8) from the free throw line and committed just six turnovers in the second half. Freshman guard Tony Nixon scored a team-high nine points, leading a balanced scoring effort for NIU - 11 players scratched the scoring column.
Northern Iowa, the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament champions, were led by Adam Koch's 15 points and seven rebounds; he was 7-of-10 from the free throw line. Kwadzo Ahelegbe (13 points) and Ali Farokhmanesh (11) both joined Koch in double-figures. The Huskies were held without a double-digit scorer for the first time since Nov. 9, 2007; NIU's opponent that day was Northern Iowa, and the game was also held at the McLeod Center. Ryan Paradise and Michael Patton each scored a game-high seven points for NIU in a 75-45 defeat in the 2007-08 season opener.
"I saw a tremendous effort from our guys tonight," said head coach Ricardo Patton. "I think we certainly match up in terms of players, we'd like to get them (UNI) to come to the Convo. Sometimes when teams haven't won for a while there's a mindset that they are not supposed to come in here and win. We didn't fall into that category. I thought our guys fought hard and played well against a very good team, a team picked to win the Missouri Valley and we had a chance to win."
Northern Illinois jumped out of the gate with a 5-0 lead early in the first half, with Nixon and Bryan Hall
providing early field goals. UNI took its initial lead with 16:17 remaining, when Ali Farokhmanesh drilled the Panthers' first three-pointer of the contest. UNI's lead fluctuated between one and five points over the ensuing 11 minutes, before forcing the Huskies into their seventh foul, and entering the 1-and-1 bonus with 5:14 remaining in the opening half.
Michael Fakuade broke a 4:04 scoring draught for NIU with 4:19 left in the opening stanza, after hitting back-to-back free throws, the Huskies' only two freebies during the first half. Those tallies trimmed UNI's lead to just five points, 23-18. Fakuade provided NIU's only remaining field goal of the half, with 50.7 seconds left, capitalizing on a series of offensive rebounds.
NIU had a chance to enter the locker room down by no more than seven points, but committed a turnover with time winding down. Farokhmanesh swiped a steal, went coast-to-coast for a fast break lay-up, and gave the Panthers their largest lead of the half (29-20) at intermission.
Northern Illinois' defensive effort was turned up a notch to start the second half. The Huskies held the Panthers scoreless for the first 9:37, and without a field goal for more than 12 minutes. UNI was equally as stingy on the defensive end, allowing the Huskies to outscore them just 5-0 during the scoreless stretch.
Darion "Jake" Anderson pulled the Huskies within two points (31-29) after his third and final field goal, with 8:01 remaining. But Koch answered with UNI's first field goal of the second half less than 30 seconds later (7:35), spearheading three-straight possessions that the Panthers scored to open up a 39-29 lead with 6:25 left.
The Huskies responded with an 11-4 run, sparked by a three-pointer from Mike DiNunno with 3:31 remaining, to pull within 43-40. NIU came up with one of its seven steals on the ensuing defensive possession, but committed an errant down-court pass, preventing the score to draw any closer.
Northern Iowa outscored the Huskies 9-5 over the final 3:30, hitting seven free throws in the process. The Panthers ended the game with a 37-35 rebounding advantage, and held a 15-14 edge in offensive boards. UNI attempted 19 more free throws than the Huskies.
"We certainly struggled offensively," Patton added. "Jake Anderson went 2-10 for the night; he wasn't able to find the basket from the perimeter. Tony Nixon ended up hitting some big shots late but he went 3-8. Kowal went 2-9 and I felt there was contact on some of his shots. You can't shoot 32 percent and expect to win, although we held them to 34 percent. It was a very physical game, and we came up short."
NIU will play its second-consecutive Missouri Valley Conference opponent next Wednesday (Dec. 2), when in-state foe Bradley visits the Convocation Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:08 p.m., and the game will be televised on WQRF (Fox-39) in Rockford. Bradley recorded a 72-68 upset victory over No. 20 Illinois earlier tonight in Las Vegas.