Western outlasts NIU for 1-point win

By Tom Clegg and Chris Sigley

NIU basketball coach Jim Rosborough thought his team was playing in a haze at times Thursday night as Western Illinois handed the Huskies a 74-73 loss in Macomb.

“We’ve got to be focused and 100 percent prepared for every game,” Rosborough said. “There was not the same focus here as there was at Idaho State (73-66, NIU on Monday).”

With 1:15 left in the game and the Huskies (3-3) down 69-67, NIU’s Andrew Wells (8 points, 8 rebounds), who regained his starting status after a two-game back seat to freshman Randy Fens, fouled out. Wells’ fifth foul came after a frustrating series of offensive rebounds for the Leathernecks (2-3) that left the NIU coach miffed.

“I know for sure there were some people just standing there,” Rosborough said. “I was baffled.”

WIU sank both of its throws from the charity stripe to equal its largest lead of the second half at 71-67. Stacy Arrington, who led the Huskies in scoring with 18, returned the favor as he hit a pair of free throws with a minute left in the game.

Arrington pulled the Huskies within a point at 72-71 on an eight-footer. With the 45-second shot clock shut off, NIU’s Donald Whiteside (17 points, 7 assists) fouled Western’s J.R. Crane.

“We got the guy to the line that we wanted to at the end there,” Rosborough said.

But Crane crossed up NIU’s plans. The senior guard dumped in both ends of a one-and-one to again widen the gap to 74-71. Donnell Thomas (15 points, 8 rebounds) hit the last bucket for the Huskies on a rebound of Whiteside’s second consecutive missed free throw.

With :13 left to play, NIU went into its full-court press with intentions of fouling or creating a turnover. But the Huskies could do neither.

“We had a play set up after (Whiteside’s) free throws,” Rosborough said. “We were going right into the press to try and get a foul right away, but we couldn’t catch up with anybody.”

WIU’s Bob Smith scored 11 of his game-high 21 in the first half to help pace the Leathernecks toward a 36-34 intermission lead. Both squads shot well from the field (NIU .526, WIU .537), however, Western’s hot hands came as a surprise to Rosborough.

“This is a tough pill to swallow,” the Huskie boss said. “They’ve (WIU) been shooting 41 percent for the year, and they shoot 54 percent tonight. That’s the whole game right there.”