Huskies slam Zips, break record

By Wes Swietek

On Senior Appreciation Night at Chick Evans Field House, the five NIU seniors would not be denied.

Andrew Wells, Antwon Harmon, Donald Whiteside, Donnell Thomas and Stacy Arrington said farewell to their home careers as they said farewell to Akron 75-62.

The Huskies set a school record with their 22nd victory and clinched at least a tie in the Mid-Continent Conference race, thanks to the seniors that would not be denied:

Donald Whiteside, NIU’s 5-10 dynamo, repeatedly wounded Akron’s comeback attempts with 3-pointers.

Donnell Thomas, NIU’s 6-4 forward who plays like he is six inches taller, moved into the No. 2 spot on the all-time NIU scoring list during the game while leading the Huskies with 20 points.

Andrew Wells and Antwon Harmon, the Huskies’ bookend 6-7 inside players scored 10 and 12 points respectively and put the clamps on bruising Akron center Pete Freeman in the second half.

And Stacy Arrington, who notched 10 valuable minutes as he continues to come back from an injury.

“When I look at that group of seniors, I can’t say it’s always been rosy; it’s not,” head coach Jim Molinari said. “(But) I can read hearts. These kids all have good hearts. Those five will represent Northern very well.”

They represented NIU (22-4, 12-2) well enough to beat Akron (14-12, 5-10), but not before the upset-minded Zips gave the 3,589 fans some anxious moments.

The Zips trailed only 15-13 when NIU, keyed by a Whiteside 3-pointer, went on an 11-0 run to seemingly put the Huskies on their way to a rout. But Freeman, Akron’s 6-7, 225-pound version of Charles Barkley, as the saying goes, had other ideas.

Freeman scored the first half’s last two buckets to make it 29-23 NIU at intermission. Freeman finished with 12 first-half points, but NIU’s collapsing defense held him in check the rest of the way.

Zip guard James Smith took advantage of NIU’s double-teaming defense on Freeman to score three-straight baskets as the Huskies’ lead was cut to 34-32.

Then the seniors took over.

Donald Whiteside nailed three consecutive 3-pointers, sandwiched by a Thomas basket, to put NIU up 51-42 and back on the winning track. The Huskies continued to build their lead as the seniors left the game, one by one, to standing ovations.

Whiteside, the Huskies’ heart, and Thomas, the Huskies’ muscle, summed up the seniors’ careers.

“(We’ll) go down as a special team,” Whiteside said. “Individuals will be forgotten,” Thomas added, “teams will be remembered. This team will always be remembered.”