Breaking down the NIU brickfest

Photo Credit: Northern Illinois Athletics

Photo Credit: Northern Illinois Athletics

BY TROY PHILLIPS

It’s been a turbulent last few months for Northern Illinois faithful.

This fall, fans were treated to an unlikely run of twelve straight victories from the Huskies football program, but as the calendar turned to December, the pendulum of sporting karma began to swing the other way.

After an emotional overtime victory over top 25 rival Kent State to clinch the MAC conference title, head coach Dave Doeren announced that he would be leaving the program to take a more lucrative offer from N.C. State, partially raining on the program’s parade. Despite a brief respite after being selected to play in the Orange Bowl a few days later, the underdog (pun very much intended) Huskies were ultimately defeated by traditional powerhouse Florida State, validating multitudes of skeptics who doubted the school’s ability to play in a BCS bowl game.

And, despite everything else that had happened, the NIU athletic program’s most disheartening moment came on January 26th, long after the football season had ended.

Expectations are never high for Huskies basketball — the team hasn’t made the tournament since the 95-96 campaign — but no fan expects or deserves to witness the kind of inadequacy that the NIU squad displayed on Saturday night. I’m not just talking about a bad loss against a small program (Eastern Michigan) or an off-shooting night. I’m talking about four points in the first half, and 25 in the game.

Four points. The amount of statistics to back up the magnitude of this record-setting futility are ironically plentiful, so let me throw a few of them out there rapid fire. The team shot 3.2% from the field in the first half, and 13.1% in the game, both records in the shot clock era. The first two points were scored by Abdel Nader a minute into the game, and were followed by 29 straight misses. Despite taking 61 shots as a team, starters Kevin Gray and Darrell Bowie only accounted for three despite playing a combined 35 minutes. Guard Akeem Springs went 0-10 including going 0-7 from three. The team went 1-33 from deep and hit their only successful attempt with two minutes remaining. The list goes on, but the point is clear; this one was bad, folks.

The Eastern Michigan Eagles should have considered buying lottery tickets later that night after walking away with a 17-point win despite only scoring 42 points on 37% shooting. As for the Huskies, there probably weren’t too many words exchanged in the postgame locker room.

Coach Mark Montgomery and the rest of the team have some searching to do after this latest debacle and another disappointing season as the team sits at 4-14. The issue speaks loudly to the inability of major universities in Illinois to acquire top-level talent, despite having one of America’s most talented youth basketball hotbeds in their own backyards. Hope may be on the horizon, however, as three of the five ESPN Top 100 recruits for 2013 out of Illinois will be staying in-state to attend college. Anything to take the spotlight away from this weekend’s brickfest.

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