Huskies Set to Face Host Air Force Wednesday

GO HUSKIES Mike Dinunno
Mike Dinunno

Dec. 2, 2008

NIU-Air Force Game Notes in PDF Format Get Acrobat Reader

DEKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's basketball team (3-4) will continue its westward bound non-conference slate Wednesday, when the Huskies visit Colorado Springs, Colo., to take on host Air Force (4-2). Tip-off from Crune Arena is set for 8 p.m. CST. NIU will be playing its seventh game either on the road or at a neutral facility this season.

The Huskies are coming off a sixth-place finish at last week's Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Ala. NIU dropped a 79-58 decision against 2008 Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament champion Portland State in the first round (Nov. 26), before recording a come-from-behind, 71-68 win over host Alaska Anchorage in the consolation semifinal. The Huskies held an eight-point lead with just over six minutes remaining against Western Carolina in the 4th/6th place game, but fell in the game's late stages, 71-67.

NIU defeated the visiting Falcons, 63-52, at the Convocation Center (Dec. 4, 2007) last season, recording just its second win of the campaign. The Huskies own a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series.

» With its third win, Northern Illinois has already recorded half of its entire win total from the 2007-08 season. Last year, the Huskies didn't record their third victory until Dec. 29, 2007, after topping Arkansas-Little Rock, 59-55.
» Wednesday's contest at Air Force represents a non-conference return game from the 2007-08 season, when the Huskies recorded a 63-52 win over the Falcons at the Convocation Center in DeKalb, Ill. (Dec. 4, 2007).
» Northern Illinois head coach Ricardo Patton will return to coach in the state of Colorado for the first time since becoming the Huskies' mentor prior to the 2007-08 season. Patton spent 14 years coaching at Colorado, including 11 seasons at the Buffaloes' head coach.
» The Huskies will be seeking their second road win of the season against Air Force. NIU defeated host Alaska Anchorage Friday in the consolation semifinals of the Great Alaska Shootout, its first road win since Feb. 12, 2008. Previously, the Huskies had dropped 21-of their last 24 road contests.
» After making the 1,014-mile trek to Colorado Springs, Colo., the Huskies have traveled a total of 9,682 miles in the first 19 days of the season. The Huskies also made the trip to and from Kennesaw, Ga., for the 100 Club Classic (Nov. 14- 15), played at Tennessee State (Nov. 21) and spent six days in Anchorage, Ala., for the Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 26-29).
» Northern Illinois will play four-of its next five games at home following Wednesday's contest against host Air Force. The Huskies will host Chicago State Saturday (Dec. 6), before traveling to Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 14, and playing against Southern Illinois (Dec. 17) and Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 20) in the final two non-conference games of the 2008 calendar year. The Huskies open Mid-American Conference play at home against Toledo on Jan. 10.

The Northern Illinois men's basketball team erased a seven-point halftime deficit, and owned an eight-point advantage of its own with just over six minutes remaining in the game, but Western Carolina mounted a convincing comeback, and recorded a 71-67 win over the Huskies in the 4th/6th place game of the Great Alaska Shootout Saturday evening at Sullivan Arena.

For the third-straight game, Darion "Jake" Anderson led the Huskies in scoring, pouring in 15 points to go along with his four rebounds and five assists. Sophomore center Sean Kowal contributed a career-high 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and corralled a team-best seven rebounds; and senior Sean Smith secured his second-consecutive double-digit scoring output with 13 points on a 5-of-8 shooting effort. WCU was led by Harouna Mutombo, who led a threesome in double-figures with 22 points on 10 field goals.

For the first time this season, the Huskies lost despite shooting 40 percent or better from the field (22-of-55). NIU was out-shot (44.1 percent to 40.0 percent), out-rebounded (40-35) and had 19 turnovers to Western Carolina's 17.

Northern Illinois is 3-4 on the season with wins over Western Illinois (Nov. 15), Indiana State (Nov. 18) and Alaska Anchorage (Nov. 26), and losses against Maine (Nov. 14), Tennessee State (Nov. 21), Portland State (Nov. 26) and Western Carolina (Nov. 28). The Huskies' setbacks against Tennessee State (75-73) and Western Carolina (71-67) came by a combined six points.

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 17.3 points per game and is also leading the team in field goals (37), free throws (34), rebounds (39), assists (18) and steals (13). Mike DiNunno scores 15.0 points per game and has drained a team-best 15 three-point field goals while averaging a team-high 33.7 minutes per game. Sean Kowal averages 10.7 points per game and leads both NIU and the MAC with a 62.3 field goal percentage.

On the defensive side, Anderson (13), DiNunno (11) and Najul Ervin (11) have combined to swipe 35 of the Huskies' 62 steals; while Kowal and Ervin have each collected eight blocks. NIU has shot 40.9 percent from the field, and held its opponents to a 44.1 field goal percentage.

Air Force is off to a 4-2 start this season after posting victories over Western State, Cal-State Bakersfield, UCCS and Norfolk State, and suffering losses against Wofford and Stanford.

The Falcons, led by second-year head coach Jeff Reynolds, went 16-14 last season, and dropped a first-round Mountain West Conference Tournament decision against San Diego State. Air Force returns 11 lettermen, including three starters, from last season's team.

Air Force has outscored its opponents 69.8-65.5, and outrebounded its foes, 33.8-31.7. The Falcons have allowed opponents to shoot just 39 percent (39.3) from the floor while shooting nearly 48 percent (.473) through six games.

Anwar Johnson leads a threesome of Falcons in double-figures with 13.7 points per game. He is also the team leader in minutes per game (31.8), free throws (29), assists (17) and steals (6).

Also averaging double-figures are Matt Holland (12.0) and Andrew Henke (11.5). Holland leads the team with 27 field goals, and Henke has hit a team-high 15 three-pointers. The Falcons are averaging just 12.8 turnovers per game.

Northern Illinois' starting five is accounting for 70 percent of the point scoring early on this season. In the first seven games, NIU starters have had 16 double-digit scoring efforts. Darion "Jake" Anderson has tallied a team-high six double-digit scoring outputs, while Mike DiNunno and Sean Kowal have each scored in double-figures in five games this season.

NIU has seen seven newcomers crack the lineup this season, and they have all made a significant impact. Four newcomers have recorded starting assignments, and the seven players have combined for 251 of NIU's 484 points this season.

Several NIU players enter Wednesday's game within reach of some significant individual milestones. Najul Ervin has 99 career rebounds, and is one carom away from equaling 100, and Michael Patton's 199 points put him just one point away from 200 for his career. Darion "Jake" Anderson has 92 career assists, and is eight away from 100. Meanwhile, Jeremy Landers passed the 100-career point plateua against Alaska Anchorage, and Sean Smith eclipsed 200 career points against Western Carolina.

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 193-186 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 went on a 17-6 run over the final 3:33 of the second-half to help propel the host Huskies to the 63-52 non-conference victory over the Air Force Academy at the NIU Convocation Center last December. Jarvis Nichols finished with a game and season-high tying 18 points, while Jeremy Landers also tied a season-high with 14 points. Sean Smith added a then-season-best 10 points. AFA guard Tim Anderson led the Falcons with 15 points, while senior center Keith Maren added 10 points.

After averaging 18.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in the Huskies' three contests during the 2008 Great Alaska Shootout, sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson was named to the all-tournament team following Saturday's championship game between Hampton and San Diego State. Anderson hit seven three-pointers in the tournament, and was 17-of-22 (.733) from the free throw line, nearly 17 percent higher (.567) than his season average heading into the Great Alaska Shootout. His 15 defensive rebounds, nine assists and six steals were all team-best marks in the four-day event.

Sean Smith, the Huskies' lone senior, played just a combined five minutes in the first three games of the season, including not seeing action in Northern Illinois' win over Western Illinois on Nov. 15. But since, he has become a regular member of the rotation, and a valuable offensive threat. In the past four games, Smith has averaged 12.3 points per game, including a career-high 19 points against Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 28.

Sophomore center Sean Kowal and senior forward Sean Smith, who started alongside in each other in NIU's frontline during the second half of the Huskies' 71-67 loss against Western Carolina, boast an impressive combined statistic heading into Wednesday's game at Air Force. Kowal (.623) and Smith (.613) own the respective first and second individual field goal percentages in the MAC. ERVIN'S PRODUCTION INCREASES
Junior Najul Ervin, who has started 6-of-7 games this season, is already on his way to having a vastly improved statistical second season for the Huskies, as compared to his 2007-08 debut campaign. Ervin has already equaled his entire assist total (12) from last season, and has collected one more steal (12) than last season (11). He is also playing nearly 15 more minutes per game (25.4 in 2008-09 to 10.7 in 2007-08), and averaging over three more rebounds (5.6 rpg) than last season (2.4).

Darion "Jake" Anderson, the 2008 Mid-American Conference and Freshman of the Year, ranked in the league's top-20 in scoring (12.2 ppg), rebounding (5.1 rpg) and assists (2.64 apg) last season. Heading into Wednesday's game at Air Force, Anderson currently ranks in the top-20 of all three of those categories this season.

Sophomore center Sean Kowal is still becoming re-acclimated to full playing shape, but has been a steady inside presence for the Huskies early this season. Kowal has scored in double-digits in five games, and is coming off a career-best 14-point, seven-rebound effort against Western Carolina.

Defending Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year Darion "Jake" Anderson enters Wednesday's game as the Huskies' leading scorer and rebounder, and has seen his production increase in the following categories from his freshman to early in his sophomore campaign: points per game (12.2 to 17.3), field goal percentage (.394 to .404), three-point percentage (.227 to .382) and rebounds per game (5.1 to 5.6). He passed the 400-career point plateau against Tennessee State, and enters Wednesday's game with 463 career points.

Northern Illinois' starting backcourt tandem of Mike DiNunno and Darion "Jake" Anderson are the only two players to score more than 100 points, and have accounted for 47 percent of the Huskies' scoring this season. DiNunno and Anderson have also combined for 28 three-point field goals through seven games.

Early this season, when Northern Illinois gets off to a quick start, and owns a lead at halftime, it has translated into wins. The Huskies are 2-0 this season when holding a halftime lead, defeating both Western Illinois and Indiana State. NIU is 1-4 when trailing at the halftime intermission.

Northern Illinois' three wins this season have come with the Huskies recording a team shooting percentage better than 40 percent. The Huskies shot 52.2 percent (24-of-46) against Western Illinois, recorded a 41.9 percent (26-of-62) mark in their win over Indiana State, and shot 41.7 percent (25-of-60) in the win over Alaska Anchorage. NIU was exactly 40 percent from the field in Saturday's loss against Western Carolina.

Northern Illinois' rebounding margin is just +0.1 this season, but a significant advantage for the Huskies in the early going has been their aggressiveness on the offensive and defensive glass. NIU has out-rebounded four-of its seven foes, and is averaging a MAC-second-best 13.9 offensive caroms per game.

In 2008-09, the Huskies will field a roster with eight Illinois natives, including five players from Chicago. True freshmen Mike DiNunno, Bryan Hall and Keith Smith, along with redshirt freshman Michael Fakuade and sophomore Darion "Jake" Anderson, all hail from the Windy City.

The Huskies' lone returning starter this season is Darion "Jake" Anderson, but NIU welcomes six newcomers to the mix, including 2007-08 red-shirts Lee Fisher, and Sean Kowal, a Colorado transfer. In all, 10 players that were either red-shirted or did not play last season were slated to take the court for Northern Illinois in the 2008-09 campaign.

Northern Illinois returns nearly 45 percent (44.8) of its scoring, about 35 percent (34.6) of its rebounding, and almost 45 percent (44.6) of its assist totals from last season. Along with the return of Darion "Jake" Anderson, the Huskies also welcomed back their top three-point shooter, sophomore Michael Patton, who converted a team-high 35 three-point field goals in 2007-08.

FUTURE OF HUSKIE HOOPS? Northern Illinois head men's basketball coach Ricardo Patton bolstered his Windy City recruiting ties in the early signing period, when 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard Tony Nixon signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his education and basketball career with the Huskies. Nixon, a South Holland, Ill., product, is in his senior season at Seton Academy. He is the fifth recruit in the Patton era to hail from the Chicago metropolitan area.



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