Smith scores 35 points but NIU men fall short at South Florida, 84-83



December 17, 2002


Box Score



TAMPA, FL --- With 22 seasons in the profession, Northern Illinois University men’s head coach Rob Judson must be a realist. The fact that his Huskies fell, 84-83, to the University of South Florida at the Sun Dome in the final seconds Tuesday night (December 17) is not a moral victory. In the harsh won-lost world of major-college basketball, it is a setback---albeit a correctable one.


“It’s a 40-minute game,” Judson stressed afterwards. “It’s consistency over the course of time. We break down games in four-minute segments and we lost the first three badly. In the second half, it was a basketball game. I’m proud of the team. Did we come back and fight? Yes, I really liked the way we played in the second half.”


Northern Illinois frosh guard Anthony Maestranzi hit a lean-in banking three-pointer on the run from midcourt at the buzzer for the game’s final points. Judson’s Huskies fought back within two points three times at 78-76, 80-78, and 82-80 during the final 2:19, but the comeback wasn’t enough and the loss spoiled a career night by junior swingman P. J. Smith who exploded for a collegiate-high 35 points---23 in the final 20 minutes.


“Perry made a lot of shots,” Judson said. “His teammates did a nice job of finding him and he gave us a nice inside-out presence. Our start left a lot to be desired. We turned over the ball a lot in the first 12 minutes and that led to a lot of easy (USF) baskets. We began to regroup the last eight minutes of the (first) half. Down nine at half gave us some hope.”

After its only lead of the contest---6-5 just 2:39 into the game on a Jay Bates lay-up, Northern Illinois struggled most of the opening half and fell behind as much by 20 points (32-12), thanks to a 27-6 USF run or a Huskie drought that produced
only three baskets during a stretch of 7:54. NIU battled back and pulled within nine at the intermission, thanks to a Todd Peterson trey with 0:02 left. And that’s where the 6-foot-4 Smith took over the proceedings.


Smith opened the second stanza by canning his first five shots---a driving lay-in, a three-point jumper, another trey, a fastbreak dunk, and a third trifecta that left the host Bulls still ahead, 56-46. But psychologically, Judson’s team was back in the game. Peterson converted on a rare four-point play after getting fouled on a trey from the perimeter. His free throw pulled the Huskies within 56-50 at the 13:55 mark. Then Northern Illinois outscored USF by an 11-7 margin and Smith’s three-pointer rallied the visitors within 63-61 with 9:20 on the scoreboard clock.


Two more times, Smith pushed Judson’s quintet within two, 65-63 and 68-66, at a time when South Florida point guard Reggie Kohn sat out after being poked in the eye. Kohn returned and helped USF rebuild a 77-70 advantage, but guess who went on a 6-1 spree to scratch within 78-76? Clutch one-and-one free throw shooting by Smith, a short Bates jumper in the paint, and then two more one-and-one foul shots by Al Sewasciuk did the work at 2:19 left.


Both teams misfired---Northern Illinois turned the ball over and South Florida’s 6-foot-10 pivotman Will McDonald missed a sure-bet dunk in-close. USF increased the margin to 80-76 on foul shots by Marlyn Bryant with 1:16 remaining before Smith tallied point Nos. 34 and 35 on a driving bank shot with 0:48 left. After a Bulls timeout, McDonald put the hosts up 82-78 on a rebound basket with 0:15.1 to play. On the ensuing possession, Bates took the ball to the hole and made his two free throws for an 82-80 deficit with 0:04.2 and was forced to foul Bryant who made two foul shots 1.2 seconds later.


“It was a great effort on a hostile court,” Judson added. “We can go right down the line and cite a lot of people. Perry really got it doing and lifted the team. I think we found our scorer tonight.”


Smith’s 35 points---on 14-of-18 shots from the floor (5-of-7 on three-pointers) and 2-of-2 at the charity stripe---marked the most by a Northern Illinois performer in 76 games since All-Century center T. J. Lux bombed Marshall for his ultimate “double double” performance (36 points and 20 rebounds) at Chick Evans Field House on January 22, 2000. The previous career-high for Smith was a 26-point outing at Akron on February 20, 2002. No. 21 also added a team-best seven rebounds, two steals, and one assist in his 31-minute stint vs. USF. Bates was the only other double-digit Huskie scorer with 12 points.
South Florida---now 5-2 overall---boasted three twin-digit scorers.


McDonald led the way with a 28-point and 11-board “double double” followed by forward Jimmy Baxter with 21 points and forward Terrence Leather with 11 markers. The Huskies won the battle of the boards, 37-32, but ulimately lost the game at the charity stripe where despite canning a commendable 13-of-17 free throws (.765 percent), USF made 18-of-27.


Northern Illinois---now 3-5 overall and 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference---now goes from Conference USA to the Missouri Valley Conference and plays Illinois State University for the first time in 20 years this Saturday (December 21) at Redbird Arena. Tipoff time is 2:05 p.m. (CST).


-- Copy by Mike Korcek -30-



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