Huskies Return Home to Host Rival SIU Wednesday Night

GO HUSKIES Jeremy Landers started the second-half at UALR.
Jeremy Landers started the second-half at UALR.

Dec. 16, 2008

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DEKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's basketball team (4-6) will look to improve to 3-0 at home this season, when the Huskies host in-state rival Southern Illinois (3-5) at the Convocation Center Wednesday night.

The game will mark the 80th all-time meeting between the Huskies and Salukis, dating back to the 1920-21 season. SIU recorded an 88-66 win over Northern Illinois in Carbondale, Ill., last season (Nov. 17, 2007), and has rolled off nine-consecutive wins over the Huskies.

NIU is coming off a 97-85 loss at Arkansas-Little Rock Sunday, while the Salukis dropped a 62-48 decision at Nevada.

Northern Illinois (4-6) vs. Southern Illinois (3-5)
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008
Tip-off: 7 p.m. CST
Location: DeKalb, Ill.
Arena: Convocation Center
Television: SIU-TV/Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Radio: Huskie Sports Radio Network
Bill Baker (play-by-play)/Casey Kahler (color)
Flagship: WLBK-AM (1360, DeKalb)

For the second time in the past three weeks, Northern Illinois sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson collected a weekly honor from the Mid-American Conference, after the league office recognized Anderson as the MAC-West Player of the Week Monday afternoon.

Anderson poured in 29 points, pulled down nine rebounds and had two assists in a 97-85 loss at Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 14), one game after scoring a career-high 32 points versus Chicago State.

» Northern Illinois and in-state rival Southern Illinois will be meeting for the second-second straight season, but before last November, the Huskies and Salukis hadn't played since the 1996-97 campaign (Nov. 30, 1996). SIU will be making its first trip to NIU's Convocation Center Wednesday.
» NIU will be seeking its fifth win of the season, and third-straight home victory, when the Huskies and Southern Illinois tip-off at the Convocation Center Wednesday. 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 are 2-0 inside the confines of the Convocation Center this season, defeating Missouri Valley Conference foe Indiana State, 86-79 (Nov. 18), and upending in-state foe Chicago State, 93-81, on Dec. 6. NIU is averaging 89.5 points per home game, and has shot 51.2 percent from the field in those two contests.
» Missouri Valley Conference foe Southern Illinois is NIU's 11th non-conference opponent from nine different leagues this season. The Huskies have taken on foes from the America East Conference, Summitt League, MVC, 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.
» Wednesday's contest against the Salukis begins a three-game homestand for Northern Illinois. The Huskies will wrap up their non-conference slate at home against Loyola University-Chicago Saturday (Dec. 20), before taking a 21-day break and hosting Toledo (Jan. 13) in the Mid-American Conference opener. Overall, NIU will play five of its next seven games at home.
» Northern Illinois' last win over Southern Illinois was on Nov. 27, 1982, when the Huskies edged the Salukis, 62-61, in Rockford, Ill. SIU has rattled off nine-straight wins over the Huskies, and boasts a decisive 58-21 lead in the all-time series.

LAST TIME OUT: Hot-Shooting UALR Defeats NIU, 97-85
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson continued his torrid scoring stretch with 29 points on a career-high 12 made field goals, but the Northern Illinois men's basketball team (4-6) couldn't overcome a 61.8 percent shooting effort from the field by host Arkansas-Little Rock (7-2), and the Trojans cruised to a 97-85 win over the Huskies at the Jack Stephens Center Sunday afternoon.

UALR put six players in double figures, including four-of-five starters, led by Steven Moore's 22 points. Brandon Patterson also posted a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. NIU junior forward Najul Ervin (11 points) recorded a career-high mark in scoring for the second-consecutive game, and Michael Patton (9) and Jeremy Landers (7) each had season-high scoring outputs.

The Trojans built as large as a 26-point lead late in the first-half, and NIU countered with a 62-54 scoring advantage in the second stanza. It was the most points the Huskies have scored in a single-half this season. UALR held statistical advantages in offensive rebounds (18-9), assists (24-9) and total rebounds (42-35). The Trojans shot 62.1 percent from the field in the first half, and were 61.8 percent in the second frame.

Northern Illinois is 4-6 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), Air Force (Dec. 3) and Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 14). The Huskies' setbacks against Tennessee State (75-73) and Western Carolina (71-67) came by a combined six points. NIU is 2-0 at home 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 19.7 points per game and is also leading the team in field goals (63), free throws (54) and steals (22), while ranking second in both assists (28) and rebounds (5.7). Mike DiNunno scores 13.8 points per game and has drained a team-best 22 three-point field goals while averaging a team-high 32.2 minutes per game. Sean Kowal averages 11.1 points per game and leads both NIU and the MAC with a 58.8 field goal percentage.

On the defensive side, Anderson (22), DiNunno (12) and Najul Ervin (18) have combined to swipe 52 of the Huskies' 89 steals; while Kowal (13) and Ervin (9) have 22 combined blocks. NIU has shot 42.3 percent from the field, and held its opponents to a 45.7 field goal percentage. The Huskies are averaging 71.7 points per game, but have allowed 74.8 opponent points per contest.

Southern Illinois, which has advanced to six NCAA Tournaments in the past seven seasons, is off to a 3-5 start this season, including Sunday's 62-48 loss at Nevada. Offensively, the Salukis are led by Hennepin, Ill., native Carlton Fay, who is averaging a team-high 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Five other SIU players are averaging more than five points per contest, including senior guard Bryan Mullins (9.9 ppg), the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Through eight games, SIU is shooting 40.7 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from 3-point range, and 74.3 percent from the free throw line. The Salukis are coached by SIU alum Chris Lowery, who is in his fifth season at the helm.

Northern Illinois enters Wednesday's game leading the Mid-American Conference in steals per game (8.89). The Huskies' 89 steals through 10 games are 16 more than any other team in the MAC. Northern Illinois had a season-high 12 steals in the 93-81 win Chicago State in its last home game.

No. 23 Southern Illinois held the Huskies scoreless for the opening 10 minutes of the game, and coasted to an 88-68 non-conference victory over Northern Illinois at SIU Arena on Nov. 17, 2007. Saluki junior guard Bryan Mullins and senior forward Matt Shaw each scored 16 points to lead SIU, while freshman guard Brandon Wood added 15 off the bench. SIU forced 23 NIU turnovers, which translated into 22 points, and held the Huskies to 34.4 percent (21-for-61) shooting for the contest. The Huskies did not score their first points until a Ryan Paradise jumper at the 10:11 mark of the first half.

Wednesday's game against Southern Illinois marks the Huskies' third-of four non-conference meetings this season versus NCAA Division I schools in the state of Illinois. NIU defeated Western Illinois (Nov. 15) in the second-round of the 100 Club Classic in Kennesaw, Ga., and upended in-state foe Chicago State at the Convocation Center on Dec. 6. After hosting SIU, the Huskies will wrap up the scheduled non-conference portion of their season against Loyola University-Chicago on Saturday (Dec. 20) in the first men's and women's basketball doubleheader of the season.

Northern Illinois enters Wednesday's game leading the Mid-American Conference in steals per game (8.89). The Huskies' 89 steals through 10 games are 16 more than any other team in the MAC.

Northern Illinois is the only team in the Mid-American Conference West-Division this season to earn three 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, after collecting the same honor on Dec. 1.


Junior forward Najul Ervin, who was utilized more for his defensive impact early this season, is increasingly becoming a valuable offensive threat for the Huskies. Ervin has eclipsed his career-high in scoring in each of the last two games, scoring 10 points against Chicago State (Dec. 6), and chipping in a team second-best and career-high 11 points at Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 14). During that stretch, Ervin is 10-for-12 from the field, going 5-of-6 in each contest.

Northern Illinois' starting five is accounting for 72 percent of the point scoring this season. In the first 10 games, NIU starters have had 24 double-digit scoring efforts. Darion "Jake" Anderson has tallied a team-high nine double-digit scoring outputs, while Mike DiNunno has chipped in seven, Sean Kowal has scored in double-figures six times, and Najul Ervin has scored in double-figures twice.

Northern Illinois has had the same starting lineup in each of the last nine contests, but head coach Ricardo Patton has re-shuffled his starting five for the second half in three games. In Sunday's game at Arkansas-Little Rock, Michael Patton and Jeremy Landers replaced Bryan Hall and Mike DiNunno, respectively, at the outset of the second half. The Huskies' starting lineup over the last nine games has consisted of Darion "Jake" Anderson, DiNunno, Hall, Ervin and Sean Kowal.

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 344 of NIU's 717 points this season.

Darion "Jake" Anderson (197 points), Mike DiNunno (138) and Sean Kowal (111) have all eclipsed the 100-point plateau this season. All three players have started all 10 contests, and are averaging at least 28.3 minutes per game.

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) in NIU's last home game, 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 94-156 all-time record against current foes affiliated with the Missouri Valley Conference. The Huskies are 1-7 against Bradley, have split the two all-time meetings against Creighton (1-1), are 3-1 against Drake, have claimed both meetings versus Evansville (2-0), are 42-69 all-time against Illinois State, have dropped both decisions against Missouri State (0-2), are 8-12 against Northern Iowa, own a 21-58 all-time record versus Southern Illinois, are 4-1 versus Wichita State, and own a decisive 12-6 all-time series lead over Indiana State.

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 10 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 1-6.

Northern Illinois enters Wednesday'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 steals per game. NIU also ranks second in scoring offense (71.7), third in field goal percentage (.423), fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (.333) and rebounding offense (35.8), fourth in 3-point field goals (6.30) and blocks (3.50 bpg) and second in offensive rebounds (13.90).

Individually, Darion "Jake" Anderson (19.7 ppg, 2nd) and Mike DiNunno (13.8, 14th) both rank in the top-15 in the league in scoring, and Sean Kowal (.588) has the top individual field goal percentage in the MAC. DiNunno ranks 10th in free throw percentage (.773), and Anderson's 2.20 steals per game rank second, while Najul Ervin ranks fourth with 1.80 steals per contest.

Smith leads the MAC in 3-point percentage (.600) and DiNunno's 2.20 3-point field goals per game rank fourth. Kowal is averaging a MAC third-best 1.30 blocks per game, and Ervin ranks 10th at 0.90. Finally, Anderson ranks fourth in defensive rebounds (4.50).

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.

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.

Northern Illinois' bench has out-scored its counterparts 206-175 this season, but has made an even stronger impact as of late. The Huskie scored a combined 108 points in the last five games, including a season-high 36 points at Arkansas-Little Rock Sunday.

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 against Southern Illinois, Anderson currently ranks in the top-15 of all three of those categories this season.



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