NIU senior wrestlers go out on top with 21-16 victory over #8 Missouri (2/16)



February 15, 2003

Box Score

YPSILANTI, MI --- Just what do you call this overachieving and Mid-American Conference West Division-leading Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team? The Miracle Huskies? The Cinderella Boys? The MAC Road Warriors?

Of course, second-year, not-to-jump-to-rash-conclusions-in-mid-February-mindset Northern Illinois head man Rob Judson might not like this suggested answer: How about The Real Deal?

After rallying from a six-point deficit in the final 6:51 of regulation, forcing an extra session, and beating Eastern Michigan University, 70-68, in overtime Saturday night (February 15) before 3,263 spectators in its own Convocation Center, Judson’s quintet started stacking up the supporting evidence with five regular-season games remaining.

By winning in the Eagles’ nest, Northern Illinois improved to 14-9 overall and 10-3 in the league, won its seventh consecutive road game, notched its sixth straight “W” against Eastern Michigan, and produced the program’s tenth victory in its last 11 outings. Judson, who has seen his club go 10-2 during 2003, cannot explain the success in tangible terms.

“Our guys play with such unbelievable heart,” Judson said afterwards. “I don’t know how to gauge this team. Our team togetherness is outstanding. Tonight, we overcame a lot of obstacles again. It leaves me speechless.

“We knew it would be an absolute battle from start to finish,” Judson added. “We knew it would come down to the wire. I’m really proud of the team and getting away with this win. Eastern Michigan is a good basketball team. You can go all down the line. Jay Bates. Mike Morrison fighting at the end. Marcus Smallwood who throws his heart over the rim and then goes after it. How about Al Sewasciuk coming off the bench and getting 14 points?

“I’m so proud of the way that our guys played in overtime. We came up with some big offensive rebounds, then Mike Morrison got a big stop for us. In regulation, we had the game under control a bit at 52-44 and then the next thing you know Eastern Michigan is on top 58-52. We fought hard to get back in it and we made some great stops to send it into overtime.”

No. 1 on the Huskie hero list would be Smallwood, the 6-foot-6 junior forward who contributed his 11th point-rebound “double double” of the season with a team-high 18 points and 13 rebounds, but more importantly, tallied 12 of his 18 during the final 25 minutes and all six Northern Illinois points during OT crunch time. “Smalls” scored on power moves on back-to-back possessions to start the extra session and pull the visitors into a 68-64 lead with 3:38 left. The Elgin High School product also grabbed three key rebounds in the last five minutes that helped seal the deal.

EMU forward Markus Austin canned a three-point jumper at the 3:08 mark to cut the lead to 68-67. Smallwood pushed it back to three, 70-67, by converting two foul shots with 2:44 left on the Convocation Center scoreboad clock. The hosts’ JaQuan Hart misfired on a trey attempt and Smallwood wrapped up that rebound with 2:30 left.

Coach Jim Boone’s Eagles fought back within 70-68 on a foul shot by John Bowler at 1:57. Morrison rebounded Bowler’s second free throw miss. Thanks to back-to-back offensive boards by Morrison and Smallwood, Northern Illnois would keep the ball for three consecutive possessions that lasted 94 seconds. Bates could not connect on a trey and Eastern Michigan’s Steve Pettyjohn produced the defensive board with 32 ticks remaining and fed the ball to Hart whose shot in the paint was deflected by Morrison with two seconds left. Bates, who tallied 13 of his 17 points in the opening stanza, then corralled his career-high ninth rebound. Pettyjohn would lead four twin-digit EMU scorers with 16 points.

In the box score, it appeared that NIU guard P. J. Smith struggled, scoring only five points on 1-of-8 shooting from the floor. But the 6-foot-4 junior produced two of the most important points of the evening by making both ends of a one-and-one free throw situation with 0:18 left in regulation and tying the game at 64. Pettyjohn missed a trey at the buzzer.

Smith’s points capped a 12-6 Huskie rally in the last 6:51 of the second half. Eastern Michigan’s Ricky Cottrill put his team ahead, 58-52, on a breakaway lay-up after a Northern Illinois turnover. The Eagles had produced 14 unanswered points to erase a 52-44 NIU advantage. With 3:22 left, two Ryan Prillman foul shots lifted EMU into a 61-55 lead. Again, Judson’s troops rallied within, 61-60, behind two Smallwood charity tosses, plus a Todd Peterson trifecta. Pettyjohn’s old-fashioned three-point play on a basket and free throw at 2:14 moved the hosts to a 64-60 lead. Smallwood’s dunk with 46 seconds left sliced the deficit to 64-62. Smith then got fouled by Cottrill on a defensive rebound at the 18-second mark.

The game was tied eight times---including a 37-all deadlock at intermission. Eastern Michigan led most of the opening half---opening a 27-18 bulge on a Hart three-point jump shot at the 9:29 mark. Northern Illnois stayed within range despite the fact that the Eagles canned their first nine attempts from the floor.

Northern Illinois kept the MAC West lead by a half a game over Central Michigan which beat Toledo, 66-64. Eastern Michigan, which fell to 10-11 overall and 4-8 in the Mid-Am West, lost only for the second time in 11 home games this season. For the Huskies, the ten MAC triumphs equaled the school’s all-time best in the league (10 MAC wins in 1976-77, 10 in 1980-81, and 10 in 1985-86). The 14 Northern Illinois victories represent the most by the program since 1995-96 in the 20-10 season that culminated in a National Collegiate Athletic Association tourney appearance under coach Brian Hammel.

(For further information, please contact Mike Korcek)




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