Huskies dig deep to down Loyola

By Todd McMahon

For 40 minutes Wednesday night, the NIU men’s basketball team played like a squad with a full deck.

Down to only eight players before the opening tip, the Huskies (7-11) dug deep and played inspired basketball in a 62-56 upset victory over Loyola-Chicago (9-7) at the Rosemont Horizon.

With center Randy Fens in street clothes on the NIU bench (right elbow infection), the trio of Mike Hidden, Brian Molis and Steve Oldendorf stepped up to preserve the Huskies’ second straight victory.

Hidden and Oldendorf finished with a team-high 14 points each, while playing 37 and 38 minutes, respectively. Molis finished with seven points and three steals, while trying to shake off the effects of his ongoing ankle injury.

“The Huskies are starting to improve and grow together,” NIU coach Brian Hammel said. “We hit some really big shots. Some of them even surprised me.”

Those key shots coming when Loyola made its final run of the game. With the Huskies ahead 55-45, Rambler Grant Moehring (game-high 16 points) converted a lay-in and foul shot on Oldendorf’s fourth foul with 5:30 to go.

Twenty-four seconds later, Loyola’s Hunter Atkins nailed a three-pointer to cut the NIU lead to 55-51.

After an NIU timeout, Molis ended the Loyola run with a jumper with 4:27 remaining.

The Ramblers went on another run, this time 5-0, to make the score 57-56 at the 1:58 mark. Oldendorf responded with a layup off a feed from Marlin Simms with 1:36 to go and the Ramblers would score no more.

Keir Rogers, the Ramblers’ go-to-guy, tied his season low with 10 points, hitting on only 3-of-12 from the floor.

“We told our kids before the game, ‘don’t let the known beat you, let the variable beat you,'” Hammel said about controlling Rogers. “We just wanted to deny him the basketball. We didn’t want him to beat us.

“Molis had the mental toughness to bring the team together. Both he and Hidden did a tremendous job of stepping up and holding off Loyola at the end,” Hammel continued.

As far as Loyola head coach Willy Rey was concerned, it was over-anxiousness that did his team in.

“We were a little anxious and tried to do too much,” Rey said. “Everybody wanted to step up and make the plays. That’s why we shot 37 percent.

“NIU has been playing well—their record is misleading.”