Big crowd, big win for NIU Huskies

By Wes Swietek

The biggest crowd since 1986 to see the men’s basketball team play at Chick Evans Field House was entertained by a sizzling performance. The Huskies shot 67 percent for the game and cruised to an 88-67 pounding of Montana State.

The crowd was also entertained by the Famous Chicken, who appeared at the game and helped boost the attendance figures.

“We took half of our travel budget for the year and gave it to the Chicken,” joked Huskie coach Jim Molinari. “We want him here for every game.”

The Huskies, however, needed no help from anyone to raise their season record to 2-1 with the victory. The attendance of 4,062 fans at NIU was the largest crowd for a Huskie game since February 26, 1986 against Toledo.

“I’m proud of our kids,” said Huskie coach Jim Molinari. “They played hard defensively, especially in the first half. In the second half we let up defensively, but we kept our poise offensively. We took our time, ran our offense and got good shots.”

NIU almost set another record with its hot shooting. Donnell Thomas set the pace in the first half by hitting eight of 12 shots from the field and one for one from the free-throw line to give him 17 first-half points.

NIU jumped on the Bobcats 21-10 as Thomas contributed 13 of the Huskie points. A driving lay-up by Donald Whiteside extended the Huskie lead to 39-19 before Montana State’s Alonzo Stephens hit a three-pointer to cut the defecit to 17. Stacy Arrington’s 10-foot jumper at the buzzer put NIU up 41-22 at the half.

Montana State (2-1) cut the NIU lead to 45-27 early in the second half when Donald Whiteside ignited the home crowd on a pass to Arrington for a slam-dunk and foul on a break-away. The Huskies rebuilt their lead to 20, 51-31 with 14 minutes left in the game.

A three-pointer by Montana’s Brian Elve brought the Bobcats to within 10, 55-45. Donald Whiteside with a 10-foot jumper, and Andrew Wells with a two-handed stuff off of a pass from Arrington built NIU’s lead back to 59-46. An acrobatic lay-up by David Mitchell extended NIU’s lead to 67-52.

An Antwon Harmon slam-dunk with 36 seconds remaining in the game capped the 88-67 win. The Huskies maintained their double digit lead in the second half by hitting 17 of 23 free-throws. NIU also shot a scorching 71 percent (15-21) from the field in the closing half to ensure the victory.

For the game, the Huskies shot 75 percent from the line and 67 percent from the field, which was just shy of the all-time NIU mark for shooting accuracy which stands at 68 percent.

Five players scored in double figures for NIU. Donnell Thomas led the way with 19, followed by Andrew Wells (14), Stacy Arrington (13), Donald Whiteside (12) and David Mitchell (11).

“They thumped us really good,” said Montana State head coach Stu Starner. “They dominated inside and over-powered us. They did a good job of controlling the tempo and running down the clock. We knew from seeing those sophomores last year that they’d be good juniors, and they are. They’re a really solid team, athletic and physically strong.”

The Huskies, according to Molinari, were able to concentrate on the game despite the distractions of the Chicken and the large crowd. “I told them before the game that the Chicken puts people in the seats, and it’s our job to get them out of their seats. The students (who attended) did a great job. It’s important to the players to be appreciated by their peers.”