Huskies fall 71-67 in overtime to WMU, host Buffalo Monday in first-round tournament game



March 8, 2003

Box Score

DeKALB, IL - Before the start of Saturday's (March 8) contest with Western Michigan University, if you had told Northern Illinois University men's basketball coach Rob Judson that his team would outrebound the Broncos 43-28 and hold them to 38 percent shooting, he'd take those odds. Unfortunately, Huskie miscues outweighed both of those numbers as WMU prevailed 71-67 in overtime.

The loss drops Northern Illinois to 15-13 and 11-7 in the Mid-American Conference, while Western Michigan ups its record to 18-9 overall and 10-8 in the loop. The Broncos have won six in a row against NIU.

The Huskies' loss, combined with Kent State's victory over Ohio, means that NIU will be the fourth seed for next week's MAC Tournament. Northern Illinois will play host to the University at Buffalo at 7:05 p.m. (CST) on Monday (March 10). The Huskies will host their first postseason game since the 1986 when they lost 82-79 to Toledo during their first stint in the league. NIU beat the Bulls 70-61 on February 6 in their only meeting this season.

Backed by 15 boards from forward Marcus Smallwood (Elgin), Northern Illinois posted its fourth-highest rebounding margin of the year. The 6-foot-6 junior added 13 points for his 13th double-double of the year, the most by a Huskie since T.J. Lux posted 17 during 1997-98 campaign. Jamel Staten (Minneapolis, MN / North) equaled his season-high with a team-best 14 markers while P.J. Smith (Maywood / Proviso East) added ten.

But Northern Illinois' Achilles' Heal was turnovers. For the second game in a row the Huskies committed more than 20 miscues with a season-high 27 turnovers. Northern Illinois has not had back-to-back 20-plus turnover games since losing to Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green St. WMU took advantage of NIU's poor ball-handling to the tune of 22 points off turnovers. Only two of the ten Huskies did not commit a miscue with four players turning it over five times.

"Twenty-seven turnovers is way to many," Judson said. "Our decisions weren't great. It was a tough game to finish. I thought our guys competed great and battled the whole time."

After Mike Williams made an eight-footer on the baseline with 0:24.3 seconds remaining to tie the game at 61, the Huskies set up for the final shot. Smallwood got the ball on the baseline, but before he went up for the shot he stepped on the end line. Northern Illinois' lead was as high as five (60-55) with 1:43 remaining, but Robby Collum-who scored a game-high 25 points-made four free throws along with the Williams jumper.

In the extra frame, Northern Illinois took the lead (65-63) on a three-pointer from Anthony Maestranzi (Bartlett), but would only score two more points the rest of the way on a pair of Staten free throws. During the final 2:45, Collum answered with a three of his own to give WMU the lead for good and Bobby Madison added five free throws. The Broncos went 16-of-18 from the line in the second half and overtime as part of their 20-of-24 performance (83.3 percent).

"Their turnovers negated our poor shooting," WMU floor boss Robert McCullum said. "That was our thought going into the game. We had to force them into committing 20 turnovers."

Smallwood played like a man possessed in the second half, scoring 11 of his points in the final 25 minutes while grabbing 12 boards. Foul trouble forced him to sit for the majority of the final ten minutes of the first stanza. He fell one short of his season high with five blocks with many coming during NIU's 11-2 run midway through the second half to erase a seven-point deficit. During a four-minute span he scored nine of the Huskies' 14 points.

Monday NIU will try to do something it hasn't done in seven years: win a playoff game. The Huskies last postseason triumph was an 84-63 victory over Detroit in the finals of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. The last time NIU won a MAC Tournament game was during 1981-82 when it beat Ball State 79-75 in overtime of the conference finals.

--Copy by Michael Smoose




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