Huskies Host Western Michigan in West-Division Battle Wednesday

GO HUSKIES Kowal has led the Huskies in scoring and rebounding in the past two games.
Kowal has led the Huskies in scoring and rebounding in the past two games.

Feb. 24, 2009

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The Northern Illinois men's basketball team begins its final homestand of the 2008-09 regular-season Wednesday, when the Huskies host Mid-American Conference-West Division rival Western Michigan at the Convocation Center beginning at 7 p.m.

The Huskies will be looking to salvage a season-split versus the Broncos, having dropped a 71-52 decision in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Jan. 17. NIU is coming off a 97-73 win over host Southeast Missouri in last Saturday's ESPNU Bracket Buster contest in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

The Broncos enter Wednesday's game tied atop the West Division with Ball State. WMU has dropped six-of its last eight contests, including Saturday's 59-57 home loss versus visiting Eastern Illinois. The Broncos are 3-7 on the road this season.

game information
Northern Illinois vs. Western Michigan
Date: Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Tip-off: 7 p.m. CST
Location: DeKalb, Ill.
Arena: Convocation Center (9,100)
Television: None
Radio: Huskie Sports Radio Network
Bill Baker (play-by-play)/Casey Kahler (color)
Flagship: WLBK-AM (1360, DeKalb)

PLAYER TO WATCH: #41 Sean Kowal
Sophomore center Sean Kowal has started 24-of-25 games this season, and enters Wednesday's game as the Mid-American Conference's individual leader in field goal percentage (.577).

Kowal is coming off his second double-double of the season with 21 points and a career-high 13 rebounds against Southeast Missouri in the ESPNU Bracket Buster contest. Kowal scored a team-high 14 points at Western Michigan on Jan. 17.

» Northern Illinois and Western Michigan will be playing for the 73rd time in the all-time series Wednesday. The Huskies will be looking to snap a five-game losing skid against the Broncos, dating back to the 2006-07 season.
» After suffering a five-game losing streak in Mid-American Conference play, the Huskies have won two-of their last three games overall, including last Saturday's 97-73 win over SEMO in the ESPNU BracketBuster contest.
» The Huskies are 5-5 at home this season, with a 3-3 MAC home slate. NIU is averaging 71.8 points per game at home, and has shot 46.3 percent from the field, 42.2 percent from three-point range, and 55.9 percent from the free throw line. The Huskies have scored 83 points in each of its past two home games.
» NIU will be looking to salvage a regular-season split against Western Michigan, after the Broncos recorded a 71-52 win at University Arena, in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Jan. 17, 2009.
» Redshirt freshman forward Lee Fisher is slated to make his first appearance against the Broncos this season. The Dolton, Ill., native did not make the previous trip to Kalamazoo, recovering from a mild concussion. It is the only game Fisher has not appeared in this season.
» Sophomore center Sean Kowal recorded his second double-double of the season Saturday at SEMO, scoring 21 points, and corralling a career-high 13 rebounds. Kowal has led the Huskies in both scoring and rebounding in each of the past two contests.
» For the second time this season, two of the MAC's most prolific scorers will go head-to-head when the Huskies and Broncos meet at the Convocation Center. WMU junior guard David Kool (17.3 ppg), the league's second-leading scorer, and NIU sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson (16.3 ppg), who ranks fourth in the conference in scoring, will lead their respective backcourt lineups. Kool's 12 points edged Anderson's 11-point effort in the previous meeting (Jan. 17, 2009).

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - Playing just over 100 miles from his hometown of St. Louis, sophomore center Sean Kowal recorded his second double-double of the season with 21 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, leading the Northern Illinois men's basketball team to a convincing 97-73 win over host Southeast Missouri at the Show Me Center Saturday night.

The victory gave the Huskies their first-ever win in the ESPNU BracketBuster series. NIU's 97 points marked a season-high mark in scoring, and the Huskies' 13 three-point field goals were also a season-best effort. The Huskies also set season-highs in rebounds (49), steals (15) and field goal attempts (77).

Kowal's 21 points led a foursome of Huskies scoring in double figures, followed by Darion "Jake" Anderson (18), Mike DiNunno (16) and Sean Smith (11). SEMO was led by Kenard Moore's 36 points on 12-of-22 shooting.

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, 2-9 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 16.3 points per game and is also leading the team in field goals (128) and free throws (100) while ranking second in assists (58), rebounds (131) and steals (36). Mike DiNunno scores 12.7 points per game, has drained a team-best 53 three-point field goals, and is the team leader in assists (69). Sean Kowal averages 10.4 points per game and leads both NIU and the MAC with a 57.7 field goal percentage.

On the defensive side, Anderson (36), DiNunno (39) and Najul Ervin (32) have combined to swipe 107 of the Huskies' 205 steals; while Kowal (0.88 bpg) leads the Huskies in blocks per game. NIU has shot 42.4 percent from the field, and held its opponents to a 44.2 field goal percentage. The Huskies are averaging 66.4 points per game, but have allowed 71.7 opponent points per contest.

NIU's 97 points against SEMO marked a season-high effort in scoring, and the Huskies' 13 three-point field goals were also a season-best mark. The Huskies also set season-highs in rebounds (49), steals (15) and field goal attempts (77).

Western Michigan, the preseason favorite in the Mid-American Conference West Division at the outset of the 2008-09 season, enters Wednesday's game tied atop the division with Ball State. The Broncos are coming off Saturday's 59-57 loss at home against Eastern Illinois in the ESPNU BracketBuster game. WMU is 3-7 on the road this season, with a 2-4 MAC road slate.

Junior guard David Kool (17.3 ppg), and senior backcourt mate Shawntes Gary (10.3) both average double figures in scoring for the Broncos. Chicago native David Lawson (5.7 rpg) leads WMU in rebounding, followed by Gary, who averages 5.4 boards per game.

The Broncos are averaging 61.0 points per game, and have allowed 63.4 points per contest. WMU is shooting 39.3 percent from the field, 31.4 from three-point range and 69.6 percent from the free throw line. In MAC play, the Broncos lead the league in defensive rebounding (23.58 rpg) and are tied for second in blocks (3.50 bpg).

The Northern Illinois men's basketball team put three starters in double figures, but host Western Michigan used a 17-point halftime lead to hold off a second-half Huskie rally, and the Broncos cruised to a 71-52 win at University Arena (Jan. 17, 2009) to remain unbeaten in Mid-American Conference play.

The Broncos shot a blistering 14-of-28 (.500) from three-point range in the game, and had four players post double-digits in scoring, led by Derek Drews' 17 points. NIU held MAC fourth-leading scorer David Kool to just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, but also saw Michael Redell (15 points) and Andre Ricks (11) combine for an 8-for-13 effort from the field.

Sophomore center Sean Kowal scored a team-high 14 points, 12 in the second-half, to lead NIU's offensive output. Sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson and senior forward Sean Smith each added 11 points, while freshman Mike DiNunno chipped in nine points to go along with a team-high four assists.

Dating back to the 1947-48 season, Western Michigan owns a decisive 45-27 all-time series lead against Northern Illinois. Since NIU defeated the Broncos in the second round of the 2003 Mid-American Conference Tournament, WMU has won eight-of the last 11 meetings, including five-straight.

Senior forward Sean Smith, along with four-year NIU men's basketball student manager Adam Terrell, will both be honored prior to Saturday's (Feb. 28) home finale against Ball State.

The game will be followed by the Huskie women's basketball squad's final home game versus Central Michigan, beginning at 5 p.m., where senior day festivities will also be celebrated.

WTVO, channel-17 in Rockford, Ill., will pick up the Ball State Sports Network's television production between Northern Illinois and Ball State Saturday. Tip-off from the Convocation Center is set for 2:06 p.m. CST.

A "Full Court Package" is being offered for Saturday's men's and women's doubleheader at the Convocation Center. For just $25, fans will receive four tickets, four hot dogs and four soft drinks. A regular-priced men's or women's ticket will also include admission to both contests.

Sophomore center Sean Kowal and senior forward Sean Smith share more than just the spelling of their respective first names. Kowal and Smith are roommates, and enter Wednesday's game against WMU pacing the Mid-American Conference in two individual statistical categories: Kowal continues to pace the league in field goal percentage, and Smith is the current MAC leader in three-point field goal percentage.

Senior forward Sean Smith is the Huskies' fourth-leading scorer at 8.0 points per game, but has seen his scoring production increase in recent contests. In the past four games, Smith has averaged 10.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, converting four field goals in each of those contests. Smith enters Wednesday's game with 192 points, and is eight points away from equaling 200 on the season.

Junior forward Najul Ervin started his first game since Feb. 7 last Saturday at Southeast Missouri, and responded by corralling seven rebounds, joining Darion "Jake" Anderson and Sean Kowal as NIU players with at least 100 rebounds this season. Ervin enters Wednesday's contest with 102 caroms.

While NIU head coach Ricardo Patton has used eight different starting lineups this season, in recent contests, one thing has been consistent: youth. The Huskies' starting lineup in the last three-of the last four games has consisted of three freshmen (Mike DiNunno, Michael Fakuade and Tyler Storm) and two sophomores (Darion "Jake" Anderson and Sean Kowal). 60 THE BAROMETER?
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.

Anderson is a three-time MAC-West Player of the Week.

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 have either out-rebounded or matched its opponents in each of the last three games, including a 13-rebound advantage (49-36) at Southeast Missouri.

Through 25 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 7-3 on the season; when NIU trails at intermission, it is just 1-14.

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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