Huskies Take on Host SEMO in Annual BracketBuster Contest

GO HUSKIES St. Louis native Sean Kowal
St. Louis native Sean Kowal

Feb. 20, 2009

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DeKalb, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's basketball team will take a break from Mid-American Conference action Saturday, and visit Cape Girardeau, Mo., to take on host Southeast Missouri in the annual ESPNU BracketBuster contest. Tip-off from the Show Me Center is set for 7:45 p.m. CST.

The Huskies will be seeking their second non-conference road win, but just their first victory away from home since Nov. 28, 2008. NIU is coming off Wednesday's 63-44 loss at Central Michigan, moving into a tie for fourth-place in the MAC-West standings alongside Toledo.

Southeast Missouri has lost 16-consecutive games, and is winless in Ohio Valley Conference play. Two of the Redhawks' overall wins have been at home.

NIU (7-17, 3-9 MAC) at SEMO (3-24, 0-16 OVC)
Date: Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009
Tip-off: 7:45 p.m. CST
Location: Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Arena: Show Me Center
Television: None
Radio: Huskie Sports Radio Network
Bill Baker (play-by-play)/Casey Kahler (color)
Flagship: WLBK-AM (1360, DeKalb)

Sophomore center Sean Kowal, who attended Desmet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, has started 23-of-24 games this season, and enters Saturday's as the Mid-American Conference's individual leader in field goal percentage (.565).

Kowal is coming off a team-high nine-point, eight-rebound performance at Central Michigan Wednesday night. He was 4-of-5 from the field in the 63-44 loss.

» Northern Illinois and Southeast Missouri will be meeting for the first time in the sport of men's basketball. NIU owns a 49-45 all-time record versus foes affiliated with the Ohio Valley Conference. The Huskies dropped a 77-75 decision at host OVC member Tennessee State on Nov. 21, 2008.
» With its 83-79 win over Akron on Feb. 15, NIU recorded its seventh win of the season, surpassing the Huskies' win total (6) from the 2007-08 campaign. NIU's three MAC victories also equal the output of league wins from last season.
» The Huskies are 1-9 on the road this season, with a 1-3 non-conference road slate. NIU is averaging 59.1 points per game on the road, and has shot 38.4 percent from the field, 28.8 percent from three-point range, and 60.3 percent from the free throw line. Sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson is the lone Huskie averaging double-figures on the road, scoring 16.0 points per contest.
» Saturday's contest marks the Huskies' first ESPNU BracketBuster game in more than two years. Last season's scheduled BracketBuster game against visiting Tennessee State was postponed in the wake of the tragic shootings that occurred on NIU's campus on Feb. 14, 2008. TSU will visit DeKalb, Ill., next season as the scheduled make-up date.
» Sophomore center Sean Kowal, a St. Louis native, will be returning to his home state of Missouri for Saturday's game at SEMO. Kowal spent one season at Colorado under then-head coach Ricardo Patton, before transferring to NIU upon Patton's arrival. He played his high school basketball at Desmet Jesuit in St. Louis.
» Southeast Missouri State represents the second NIU opponent this season with the nickname "Redhawks." Mid-American Conference-East Division rival Miami (Ohio) also occupies the nickname, but it is spelled "RedHawks."
» Junior forward Najul Ervin is slated to play his 50th career game against the Redhawks, and enters the contest with 95 rebounds through 24 games -- he is five caroms away from becoming the third NIU player this season to tally at least 100 rebounds. Additionally, Darion "Jake" Anderson has 99 made free throws on the season, and is one away from recording his 100th free throw.

MT. PLEASANT, Mich. - For the second time this season, Central Michigan held the Northern Illinois men's basketball team to a season-low scoring mark, as the Chippewas broke open a two-point game with a commanding 24-6 second half run, and pulled away from the Huskies, 63-44, at Rose Arena Wednesday night.

For the first time this season, NIU did not have a player tally double figures in scoring. Sophomore center Sean Kowal and senior forward Sean Smith shared the Huskies' scoring lead, chipping in nine points apiece. CMU was led by Antonio Weary's 11 points, four rebounds, three blocks and two steals, pacing a foursome of Chippewas with double-digit scoring outputs.

The Huskies suffered single-game season-lows in points, field goals (16), three-point field goals (2) and steals (4). Central Michigan out-scored the Huskies in the second half, 36-20, and scored 25 points off 17 NIU turnovers.

Northern Illinois, which is tied for fourth place in the MAC-West standings, enters Saturday's contest searching for its second non-conference road win. The Huskies are 5-5 at home, 1-9 on the road, and 1-3 on neutral courts this season.

The Huskies, mentored by second-year head coach Ricardo Patton, return five lettermen and one starter (Darion "Jake" Anderson) from last year's 6-22 (3-12 MAC) team. In all, 10 players that were either red-shirted or did not play last season are members of the Northern Illinois active roster for the 2008-09 campaign.

Three players are averaging double-figures in scoring. Anderson, the 2008 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year, averages a team-best 16.2 points per game and is also leading the team in rebounds (128), field goals (122), free throws (99) and steals (34), while ranking second in assists (51). Mike DiNunno scores 12.5 points per game, has drained a team-best 50 three-point field goals, and is the team leader in assists (64). Sean Kowal averages 10.0 points per game and leads both NIU and the MAC with a 56.5 field goal percentage.

On the defensive side, Anderson (34), DiNunno (33) and Najul Ervin (30) have combined to swipe 97 of the Huskies' 190 steals; while Kowal (0.92 bpg) leads the Huskies in blocks per game. NIU has shot 42.2 percent from the field, and held its opponents to a 44.5 field goal percentage. The Huskies are averaging 65.1 points per game, but have allowed 71.6 opponent points per contest.

Southeast Missouri, which was tabbed eighth in the preseason Ohio Valley Conference poll, enters Saturday's game with a 3-24 record, including an 0-16 OVC slate. The Redhawks' last win was a 64-63 decision over Western Illinois on Dec. 21, 2008. NIU also defeated WIU this season, 65-54, in the second round of the 100 Club Classic in Kennesaw, Ga.

Senior guard Kenard Moore (18.0 ppg) leads a threesome of Redhawks scoring in double-figures. Calvin Williams, who has appeared in 19 games, is averaging 16.5 points per contest, while Jaycen Herring has chipped in 15.9 points per game, including 17.6 points per outing in OVC play.

The Redhawks rank 10th out of ten teams in the OVC in scoring defense (79.4 ppg), scoring margin (-12.7), field goal percentage (.426), field goal percentage defense (.463), three-point field goal percentage (.311), rebounding margin (-4.6), assists per game (11.4), turnover margin (-3.59), assist/turnover ratio (0.8) and offensive rebounds per game (10.1).

Northern Illinois' ESPNU BracketBuster game versus host Southeast Missouri on Saturday night will be available as a free live stream, it was announced Thursday. The multi-camera webcast will be carried live on, and then archived on the web site following the game. KFVS12 is the CBS Network affiliate serving the Cape Girardeau, Paducah and Harrisburg (Mo.) television market.

The ESPNU BracketBuster series has proven to be an unsuccessful venture for the Huskies over the previous five years. NIU has an 0-4 record in BracketBuster series matchups, while also posting a 1-4 mark in the return games. The Huskies will be playing in their fourth road game during the history of the BracketBuster series.

Despite spending 14 years in the Big 12 Conference as both a head coach and assistant coach, Northern Illinois head coach Ricardo Patton is no stranger to Southeast Missouri or the Ohio Valley Conference. Patton grew up in Nashville,Tenn., and also served one stint (1991-93) as an assistant coach at Tennessee State. An avid karate competitor, he also participated in various martial arts tournaments at the Show-Me-Center.

For the third time this season, Northern Illinois sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson collected a weekly honor from the Mid-American Conference, after the league office recognized Anderson as the MAC-West Player of the Week Monday morning. Anderson has now collected four divisional Player of the Week honors in his one-plus year career, including three this season; he garnered the same plaudit on both Dec. 1 and Dec. 15, 2008. Freshman guard Mike DiNunno was also tabbed the MAC-West Co-Player of the Week for the period ending Nov. 23.

Northern Illinois will jump back into Mid-American Conference-West Division play next week, when the Huskies host both Western Michigan (Feb. 25) and Ball State (Feb. 28) at the Convocation Center. The Huskies will be looking to salvage a regular-season split against both the Broncos and Cardinals. BSU and WMU enter BracketBuster weekend tied atop the MAC-West standings.

While NIU head coach Ricardo Patton has used seven different starting lineups this season, in recent contests, one thing has been consistent: youth. The Huskies' starting lineup in the last three games has consisted of three freshmen (Mike DiNunno, Michael Fakuade and Tyler Storm) and two sophomores (Darion "Jake" Anderson and Sean Kowal).

Northern Illinois has scored less than 60 points in six Mid-American Conference games this season, going 0-6 in those contests. Overall this season, the Huskies are 0-8 when failing to reach the 60-point plateau.

Sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson scored 24 points to go along with a season-best 10 rebounds against Akron (Feb. 15), marking the eighth time this season he has paced the Huskies in both scoring and rebounds. He has achieved that feat 11 times in his career.

Northern Illinois was out-matched on the boards (52-45) against Kent State on Feb. 10, adding to an ongoing trend this season for the Huskies. When NIU has been out-rebounded by its opponent, the Huskies are 0-12. The Huskies managed a 32-32 tie on the boards at Central Michigan Wednesday.

Through 24 games, Northern Illinois' won-loss fate has been heavily dependent on its success during the opening 20 minutes of the game. When the Huskies lead at halftime, they are 6-3 on the season; when NIU trails at intermission, it is just 1-14.

A 12-year NCAA Division I head coaching veteran, NIU's Ricardo Patton (Belmont, 1980), is in his second season as head coach of the Huskies. He owns a 194-189 mark as the mentor at both Colorado and NIU, and has taken six teams to the postseason, with a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. He has coached three NBA Draft choices, including 2004 NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups.

Patton's staff includes Chicago native and associate head coach Dennis Gates, who was a four-year letterwinner at Cal. He came to DeKalb after three seasons as an assistant coach for his alma mater. Well-plugged into the Chicago metropolitan region, Gates is a 1998 graduate of Chicago Whitney Young High School, where he helped the Dolphins to the 1998 IHSA and Class `AA' state championship.

Assistant coach Sundance Wicks is in his third season as a member of Patton's staff, having served one season as an assistant coach at Colorado, and coming to DeKalb after Patton took over the head coaching duties at NIU. He also coached at his alma mater, Northern State, under legendary head coach Don Meyer.

Memphis, Tenn., native Will Smith was elevated from director of basketball operations to assistant coach in May. Smith played under Patton at Colorado from 1996-2000. Former Alaska Anchorage letterwinner (2002-04) Scott Stevens is the program's director of basketball operations.

Northern Illinois was picked to finish sixth in the West Division of the Mid-American Conference, as announced by the league office in conjunction with the 2008-09 men's and women's basketball media day at Quicken Loans Arena. The poll was voted on by members of the MAC News Media Association.



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