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Short-handed NIU Huskies hang tough with the Illini, fall 61-80

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This game showed a lot of heart by the Huskies, which was really impressive to see.  I just assumed like everybody else that Northern Illinois was just going to get blown off the court, both because of the missing Xavier Silas and the superior talent of Illinois.

Little did I expect to be within a breath of beating the Illini, as late as 6 min left in the game.  Both Tony Nixon and Jake Anderson started the game off strong, putting NIU right there with the Illini for the first 10 minutes into the game.

The Huskies got behind as many as 19 points with 3:12 left in the 1st half, before they started to rally back.  With around 2 minutes left in the first half, Bryan Hall played like a man possessed stealing the ball twice and scoring layups.  To finish the first half, he hit a buzzer beater from half court to make the score 41-49 going in to the locker rooms.  Single-handedly he turned around the Huskies' momentum.

After the half, NIU came out and challenged Illinois to put the score at 46-49.  It seemed as though as much as the Huskies got down all game, they had both the drive and determination to come back and make it a game.  Illinois didn't seem like a Top-25 team out there, as the Huskies were mostly beating themselves with fouling and turning the ball over.

The Stats

Apparently, the Big 10 refs don't like us all that much.  The result of this game was the same as the last as the Huskies went to the line only 12 times and hit only 50%.  On the other side, the Illini got to the line 30x and hit 73% of their shots.  Only 3 players got to the line (Anderson, Fakuade) and Kowal was 2 for 6.  That's the difference in the game right there.

Turnovers were aplenty 19-14.  From the floor we shot only 25-68 (37%) compared to UI's 27-62 (44%).  It seemed like we had open looks all game long, but we just couldn't put the ball in the basket.  Three-pointers were just OK going 5-19 (26%).  Rebounding again was impressive grabbing 38 to 42.

The Backcourt

Ladies and gentlemen, we have found our Point Guard.  Bryan Hall was the man today with the ball up top.  He finished the game 4-5 from the field, with 3 assists and only 2 turnovers.

On the other side of the spectrum was Mike DiNunno.  He started the game at PG, but then continued his poor performance from last week going 2-7, 0-3 from three and finished the game with a whopping 5 turnovers in 16 mins played with only one assist.  He looks lost out there on the court and just by the eye test, has regressed since last year.  DiNunno is not going to be a starter right now, and should only provide a spark off the bench.

Jake Anderson had to step up big-time with the loss of Xavier Silas, but it became quite clear that he couldn't accomplish that task.  He picked up 2 fouls early and could only play 4 mins in the first half.  Offensively, he just looked lost out there and only was 1 for 10 from the field.  He would try to drive to the basket and draw a foul pretty much every time he touched the ball.  The times he didn't miss, he turned the ball over which happened 4 times.  The positive thing that he did do was cause havoc on the boards grabbing 10 rebounds, leading the team.

There's Good Jake and there's Bad Jake.  Tonight we got Bad Jake.

Tony Nixon was impressive for a freshman scoring 10 pts in 29 mins and Mike Patton scored 5 in 13.

The Frontcourt

Sean Kowal had flashes of good play out there, but the stat line doesn't show it.  The big man played 33 mins, went only 3-10 from the field, grabbed only 4 boards and turned the ball over 3x.  He got hacked a couple times, but only made 2 of his 6 FTs.  A lot of the other time, he was just getting swatted or missing layups in the post.  He was a presence, he just needs to be a lot more effective in the next few games.

Najul Ervin was an absolute stud.  After him and Anderson were sitting down for most of the 1st half, he exploded going 5-6 from the floor, grabbing 7 boards and swatting 2.  All in only 18 minutes.

Michael Fakuade scored an impressive 6 points while grabbing 3 boards and stealing the ball 3x in only 12 mins.  He fouled out of the game late.

Tyler Storm was only 1-7 on FGs and made some poor decisions shooting some unnecessarily deep 3-point shots.  For as much of a stud he was in high school, the results just aren't there yet.

Overall, it was an impressive showing by the Huskies that can only make you wonder how close this game would have been had Xavier Silas been healthy.  Illinois showed flashes of greatness, but overall they weren't that impressive of a team as a whole.  Northern Illinois should take this game and be very proud of the results they got out of it, given the circumstances.

It was great exposure for both teams to be part of ESPN's 24 hour kickoff, even though it was only on ESPN360.

Next up: Tennessee State at home on Friday.