NIU men's basketball advances to quarterfinals of MAC Tournament with opening round 81-64 victory over Buffalo



March 10, 2003

Box Score

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 campaign.

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, 1998.

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.

"We're real 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 points.

Northern Illinois 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 Smoose




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