March 10, 2003
FINAL SCORE: NORTHERN ILLINOIS 81, BUFFALO 64
DeKALB, IL - A seven-year dry spell came to an end for the Northern Illinois
University men's basketball on Monday (March 10). The Huskies defeated
the University at Buffalo 81-64 in the first-round of the Mid-American
Conference Tournament for their first postseason win since the 1995-96
With the victory Northern
Illinois improves to 16-13, its best record since that 1995-96 run to
the NCAA Tournament, while the Bulls fall to 5-23 to end the year. The
Huskies advance to Thursday's (March 11) 9 p.m. (EST) quarterfinal game
against Western Michigan University at Gund Arena in Cleveland, OH.
Prior to Monday's
victory, Northern Illinois had lost its previous three Mid-Am postseason
games since coming back to the league in 1997-98. The Huskies' last victory
in the MAC Tournament was a 79-75 triumph over Ball State in the finals
of the '82 title game, a streak of five-straight losses.
Bouncing back from
a pair of sloppy defeats to Central Michigan and Western Michigan in which
it committed at least 20 turnovers in each contest, NIU limited itself
to 15 miscues with 21 assists. Handing out more than half of those assists
was guard Jay Bates (Chicago / Robeson) as he dished out a career-high
11 assists. The 11 helpers are seventh-highest single-game total in school
history and the most since Ephraim Eaddy handed out 12 on November 14,
The two main recipients
of Bates' passes were P.J. Smith (Maywood / Proviso East) and Marcus
Smallwood (Elgin). Smith topped all scorers with 22 points, while
dishing out six assists of his own to go along with four steals. Posting
his 14th double-double of the year was Smallwood as he scored 14 points
and grabbed 12 rebounds.
happy for our players," NIU floor boss Rob Judson said. "We've
elevated the program with the sixteen wins. It's a season of firsts. It's
a real credit to the these guys up here (Smallwood, Smith and Bates)."
At the start of both
the first and second halves, the Huskies jumped out early on the visitors.
Northern Illinois made nine of its first 12 shots to begin the game as
it built a 12-point lead (18-6) on a Rome Sanders (Chicago / Curie)
jumper at the 16:24 mark. But the Huskies went cold the rest of the half,
hitting just 4-of-20 to let the Bulls back in the game. UB completed a
14-2 run to take a four-point lead (32-28) on a putback by Davis Lawrence
at the 3:32 mark.
After regrouping to
take a two-point lead (38-36) into the locker room, Northern Illinois
stormed out to another double-digit lead as it scored the first ten points
of the second half. But once again the Bulls hung around and got the margin
down to as low as six points (60-54) on a pair of free throws from Roderick
Middleton with 5:57 remaining.
"It was a frozen
spell, glacial-like," Judson said of the droughts. "We kept
shooting. I thought we got some good looks. Marcus really made some nice
plays to help us out."
The Huskies pulled
it together one final time to push the margin back to double-digits as
Bates hit a pair of free throws and Al Sewasciuk (Summit / Argo)
threw in a three-pointer. Buffalo got a three-pointer from Jason Bird,
part of his team-high 13 points, to get the deficit back under ten, but
NIU hit six free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
For the second game
in a row the Huskies posted at least 40 rebounds as they held a 41-32
advantage on the glass. Five different players grabbed at least four boards,
including forward Jamel Staten (Minneapolis, MN / North) who fell
one rebound and one point a double-double. Playing in his last home game
as a Huskie, senior center Mike Morrison (Deerfield) scored ten
wades into uncharted waters Thursday, playing in its first quarterfinal
game since that 1995-96 season. However, the Huskies are very familiar
with their opponent, having dropped a 71-67 overtime decision to the Broncos
on Saturday (March 8).
--Copy by Michael