Running Huskies fall in opener

By Wes Swietek

The unveiling of the NIU men’s basketball team’s new up-tempo offense last night resembled someone jumping off a building.

Most of the trip was exhilerating, but in the end, the Huskies suffered a hard landing.

Rookie coach Brian Hammel’s running, gunning Huskies scored 91 points, a total that last year’s NIU squad took two games to achieve. But the Zalgiris Lithuanian Club team posted 92 points to earn the win at Chick Evans Field House.

The Huskies led most of the exhibition season opener, but the Lituanians staged a late comeback to take the lead, 89-88, on a three-pointer with 1:42 left. NIU guard Mike Hidden countered with a three of his own.

Gintaras Einikis then hit a free throw to knot the contest at 91. With 5.3 seconds left, NIU had the ball and a chance to nab a victory. Instead, the Huskies threw the inbounds pass away and the Lithuanians had the ball with 3.6 seconds left.

Einikis took a baseline jumper that fell short, but was fouled by NIU’s Randy Fens. Einikis hit one free throw for a 92-91 lead. After an NIU timeout and with 1.7 seconds left, Fens’ full-court pass sailed out of bounds untouched. The Lithuanians got posession of the ball and the victory.

Despite the loss and the squandering of the NIU lead, Hammel was not unhappy with his team’s performance.

“We took a giant step forward,” Hammel said. “By and large, it was a good game, (but) we’re obviously disappointed in the loss. This game will pay dividends come January, February and March.”

As for what he didn’t like—”Anytime you put a team on the foul line 36 times, it’s not a good sign,” Hammel said. “The biggest disappointment was defensive conversions. Sometimes we played like five islands out there.”

The visitors had a 36-18 free throw advantage and decidedly out-shot NIU from three-point range with the Lithuanians hitting 8-of-13 while the Huskies struggled with 7-of-24 shooting.

NIU’s senior guards, Hidden and Brian Molis led the Huskies with 16 and 14 points, respectively.

NIU freshmen Hubert Register and Marlin Simms made their collegiate debuts with 10 and 11 points, respectively.

The Lithuanian team moved to 2-4 on their tour of Midwestern colleges.

Zalgiris coach Modestas Paulauskas is no stranger to international basketball. He captained the Soviet Union’s 1972 Olympic basketball squad that defeated the U.S. in the Gold Medal game.