Huskies Face Host Arkansas-Little Rock Sunday

GO HUSKIES Kowal had his first-career double-double vs. Chicago State.
Kowal had his first-career double-double vs. Chicago State.

Dec. 13, 2008

NIU vs. Arkansas-Little Rock Game Notes in PDF Format Get Acrobat Reader

DEKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's basketball team (4-5) will look to get back to .500 on the season when the Huskies visit Arkansas-Little Rock (6-2) Sunday afternoon. The Trojans, a member of the Sun Belt Conference, are ranked No. 9 in the latest Mid-Major Top-25 poll.

The Huskies are 1-2 on the road this season, and fell in their last road contest, 67-55, at Air Force on Dec. 3. NIU has played seven of its nine games either on the road or at neutral sites. The Huskies posted a 59-55 win over UALR at the Convocation Center last season (Dec. 29, 2007).

NIU (4-5) at Arkansas-Little Rock (6-2)
Date: Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008
Tip-off: 2 p.m. CST
Location: Little Rock, Ark.
Arena: Jack Stephens Center
Television: None
Radio: Huskie Sports Radio Network
Bill Baker (play-by-play)/Casey Kahler (color)
Flagship: WLBK-AM (1360, DeKalb)

With his career-high 32 points and season-high six assists against Chicago State last Saturday (Dec. 6), sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson passed both the 500-point and 100-assist plateau in his one-plus year career at NIU.

Anderson, who has led the Huskies in scoring 16 times in his career, enters Sunday's game with 510 points and 100-career assists. He has 192 career rebounds, and is just eight caroms away from equaling 200 for his career.

» Northern Illinois and Arkansas-Little Rock will be meeting for just the second time in the respective program's history, but also the second time in two seasons. The Huskies topped the Trojans on Dec. 29, 2007, at the Convocation Center in DeKalb, Ill.
» NIU will be seeking its fifth win of the season, and second road victory, when the Huskies and Arkansas-Little Rock tip-off at the Jack Stephens Center Sunday. Last season, NIU didn't record its fifth victory until Jan. 22, 2008, when the Huskies edged Mid-American Conference West Division rival Ball State, 60-58.
» The Huskies will be playing their combined eighth game this season either on the road or at a neutral site. NIU has a 2-5 record in those games. The Huskies are 2-0 at home this season.
» Arkansas-Little Rock is NIU's 10th non-conference opponent from nine different leagues this season. The Huskies have taken on foes from the America East Conference, Summitt League, Missouri Valley Conference, Ohio Valley Conference, Big Sky Conference, Great Northwest Athletic Conference (NCAA Division II), Southern Conference and the Mountain West Conference. Chicago State was an NCAA Division I independent affiliate.
» After playing Sunday's game at Arkansas-Little Rock, the Huskies will not play another road contest for nearly one month, when NIU visits Ball State on Jan. 13, 2009. The Huskies will wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule with two home games against Southern Illinois (Dec. 17) and Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 20), before hosting Toledo (Jan. 10) to open the Mid-American Conference slate.
» Northern Illinois' 93-81 win over Chicago State (Dec. 6) marked the first time the Huskies had scored 90-or-more points in a single game since Feb. 26, 2006. Darion Jake" Anderson (32 points), Najul Ervin (10) Sean Kowal (23) and Bryan Hall (7) all recorded career-highs in scoring, and NIU shot 61 percent from the field in the game.

LAST TIME OUT: Second-Half Lifts NIU Past Cougars, 93-81
Darion "Jake" Anderson (32 points), Najul Ervin (10) and Sean Kowal (23) all recorded career-highs in scoring, lifting the Northern Illinois men's basketball (4-5) to a dominating second-half, and 93-81 win over in-state rival Chicago State (3-4) Saturday afternoon. The Huskies scored 90 or more points for the first time in the Ricardo Patton era, and the first overall since Feb. 26, 2006.

Anderson's game-high 32 points led the Huskies in scoring for the fifth-consecutive game. Ervin's 10 points came on 5-of-6 shooting, and Kowal had a career-high 12 rebounds to go along with his 23 points, securing his first career double-double.

Freshman guard Mike DiNunno chipped in 14 points and nine assists, as the Huskies racked up 27 team assists on their 36 field goals. It was the first time an NIU team eclipsed the 35 field goal mark since the 2005-06 campaign, when the Huskies defeated Aurora, 102-61, with 38 team field goals. Chicago State was led by David Holston's 32 points. Holston came into the contest as the nation's second-leading scorer with 27.7 points per game.

The Huskies owned statistical advantages in field goals (36-29), rebounding (40-36) and assists (27-11). Northern Illinois is now 4-0 this season when holding a rebounding edge over its opponent. The Huskies also recorded a decisive advantage in the paint, out-scoring the Cougars, 58-30.

Northern Illinois is 4-5 on the season with wins over Western Illinois (Nov. 15), Indiana State (Nov. 18) Alaska Anchorage (Nov. 26) and Chicago State (Dec. 6), and losses against Maine (Nov. 14), Tennessee State (Nov. 21), Portland State (Nov. 26) Western Carolina (Nov. 28) and Air Force (Dec. 3). The Huskies' setbacks against Tennessee State (75-73) and Western Carolina (71-67) came by a combined six points. NIU is 1-2 on the road 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 18.7 points per game and is also leading the team in field goals (51), free throws (50) and steals (20), while ranking second in both assists (26) and rebounds (5.3). Mike DiNunno scores 14.9 points per game and has drained a team-best 22 three-point field goals while averaging a team-high 33.6 minutes per game. Sean Kowal averages 11.8 points per game and leads both NIU and the MAC with a 61.0 field goal percentage.

On the defensive side, Anderson (20), DiNunno (12) and Najul Ervin (14) have combined to swipe 46 of the Huskies' 80 steals; while Kowal (12) and Ervin (8) have 20 combined blocks. NIU has shot 42.7 percent from the field, and held its opponents to a 44.0 field goal percentage. The Huskies are averaging 70.2 points per game, but have allowed 72.3 opponent points per contest.

Arkansas-Little Rock, under the leadership of sixth-year head coach Steve Shields, comes into Sunday's contest with a 6-2 record, 3-1 at home. The 2008 Sun Belt Conference West Division regular-season co-champions have recorded wins over Cal Poly, Pepperdine, Louisiana Tech, Creighton, Loyola Marymount and Oral Roberts. The Trojans, ranked ninth in this week's Mid-Major Top-25 poll, suffered their first loss of the season on Dec. 3, against host Missouri State, and dropped a 62-55 decision against visiting Wright State Friday night.

Guard Steven Moore, at 14.2 points per game, and backcourt mate Matt Mouzy (14.0 ppg), have led the Trojans' offensive effort through eight games; John Fowler (9.5 ppg) and Shane Edwards (9.3) have also each scored 70 or more points on the season. 6-foot-7 forward Mike Smith has a team-high 43 rebounds, and paces the Trojan defense with four blocks and a team-high 10 steals.

The Trojans enter Sunday's game averaging 63.8 points per game, and have allowed their opponents to score 61.1 points per outing. UALR shoots 42.1 percent from the field, and counters with a 41.7 defensive field goal percentage. The Trojans have out-blocked their opponents, 33-20.

Northern Illinois enters Sunday's game leading the Mid-American Conference in both assists per game (14.33) and steals per game (8.89). The Huskies had 27 assists on their 36 field goals against Chicago State, and NIU's 80 steals through nine games are 13 more than any other team in the MAC. Northern Illinois had a season-high 12 steals in the 93-81 win over the Cougars.

Northern Illinois forward Shaun Logan delivered an all-around performance with 20 points, eight rebounds, five steals and three blocked shots, to help the host Huskies secure a 59-55 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock in NIU's non-conference finale at the Convocation Center on Dec. 29, 2007.

Darion "Jake" Anderson added 13 points, while forward Egan Grafel chipped in 11 points and seven boards. UALR guard Terrance Akins converted 7-of-10 three point attempts, six in the first half, on his way to a game-high 25 points for the Trojans. The win was NIU's third of the season.

Sunday's game against host Arkansas-Little Rock marks NIU head coach Ricardo Patton's second homecoming in a non-conference road game this season. Patton served a one-year (1990-91) stint as an assistant coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, sandwiched between assistant coaching stints at Middle Tennessee State (1988-90) and Tennessee State (1991-93). The Huskies played at Tennessee State on Nov. 21.

Sophomore center Sean Kowal, who transferred to NIU after one year playing one-year (2006-07) under Huskie head coach Ricardo Patton at Colorado, has started all nine games this season, and consistently been NIU's third-leading scorer. He enjoyed a breakout performance against Chicago State (Dec. 6), securing his first-career double-double with a career-high 23 points and 12 rebounds. Kowal's 10-of-15 effort from the field included five dunks, the most for an NIU player since Hall of Famer Kenny Battle in 1985-86 (six vs. Central Michigan, Jan. 18, 1986).

Kowal's classmate, defending MAC Freshman of the Year Darion "Jake" Anderson, also had a career day last Saturday against Chicago State. Anderson set career-highs in points (32) and steals, while recording season-highs in minutes (37), assists (6), field goals (10), field goal attempts (18), free throws (10) and free throw attempts (13).

Northern Illinois owns a 12-12 all-time record against current foes affiliated with the Sun Belt Conference. The Huskies are 3-5 all-time against Florida International, have won all six meetings versus Arkansas State (6-0), are 0-2 all-time against Louisiana Lafayette, and own a 3-5 all-time record versus New Orleans.

Northern Illinois' starting five is accounting for 73 percent of the point scoring early on this season. In the first nine games, NIU starters have had 22 double-digit scoring efforts. Darion "Jake" Anderson has tallied a team-high eight double-digit scoring outputs, while Mike DiNunno has chipped in seven, Sean Kowal has scored in double-figures six times, and Najul Ervin posted his first-career double-digit scoring output with 10 points against Chicago State.

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 322 of NIU's 632 points this season.

Darion "Jake" Anderson (168 points), Mike DiNunno (134) and Sean Kowal (106) have all eclipsed the 100-point plateau this season. All three players have started all nine contests, and are averaging at least 28.6 minutes per game.

Northern Illinois enters Sunday's game within the top-five of nine Mid-American Conference statistical categories, and also has considerable representation in the individual statistics. As mentioned, the Huskies lead the MAC in assists and steals per game. NIU also ranks second in scoring offense (70.2), third in field goal percentage (.427), fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (.339), 3-point field goals (6.22) and rebounding offense (35.9), fourth in blocks (3.67 bpg) and third in offensive rebounds (13.44).

Individually, Darion "Jake" Anderson (18.7 ppg, 2nd) and Mike DiNunno (14.9, 10th) both rank in the top-10 in the league in scoring, and Sean Kowal (.610) and Sean Smith (.595) have the top-two individual field goal percentages in the MAC. DiNunno ranks eighth in free throw percentage (.829), and Anderson's 2.22 steals per game are tied for second, while Najul Ervin ranks 10th with 1.56 steals per contest.

Smith leads the MAC in 3-point percentage (.643) and DiNunno's 2.44 3-point field goals per game rank third. Kowal is averaging a MAC third-best 1.33 blocks per game, and Ervin ranks 10th at 0.89, while DiNunno has a MAC seventh-best 1.47 assist/turnover ratio. Anderson ranks seventh in defensive rebounds (4.22, and DiNunno is sixth in minutes played (33.56).

THE HUSKIE COACHES 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 194-187 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 has won three-of its four games this season when scoring 70 points. The Huskies scored 86 points in the home-opening win over Indiana State (Nov. 18), recorded a 71-68 win over host Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 28, and upended Chicago State (Dec. 6), 93-81. NIU is 0-4 this season when failing to reach the 70-point plateau.

Northern Illinois' four 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, shot 41.7 percent (25-of-60) in the win over Alaska Anchorage, and were a blistering 61 percent (36-of-59) from the field in the win over Chicago State. NIU was exactly 40 percent from the field in their loss against Western Carolina.

Through nine 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 2-0 on the season; when NIU trails at intermission, it is just 1-5.

Northern Illinois is the only team in the Mid-American Conference West-Division this season to have two players earn Player of the Week honors from the league office. Mike DiNunno was named the MAC-West Co-Player of the Week for the period ending Nov. 23, and Darion "Jake" Anderson is the current West Division Player of the Week. Ball State's Anthony Newell shared the honor with DiNunno, and is the current MAC-West Player of the Week.

Mike DiNunno and Darion "Jake" Anderson each chalked up all-tournament honors in the first four weeks of the season. DiNunno was named to the all-tournament team at the 100 Club Classic in Kennesaw, Ga., and Anderson collected the same honor at the Great Alaska Shootout.

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' 67-55 loss at Air Force, boast an impressive combined statistic heading into Saturday's game versus Chicago State. Kowal (.610) and Smith (.595) own the respective first and second individual field goal percentages in the MAC. Smith also leads the league in three-point percentage, converting at nearly a 65 percent (.643) clip.



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