Guard duos steal show

By Jeff Kirik

CARBONDALE—Saturday’s NIU-SIU contest featured a struggle between a pair of solid backcourts. The Salukis won the guard battle and, as a result, took the game.

NIU’s senior guards Rodney Davis and Randy Norman squared off against SIU’s high-scoring combination of Steve Middleton and Kai Nurnberger. When the game ended, the SIU connection had outscored NIU’s pair 49-38 and outrebounded them 20-10 in the Salukis’ 92-84 win.

The Huskie duet dominated in the early moments of the game, combining for its team’s first 16 points. Norman, who scored 12 points in that run, had the hot hand from long range in the first eight minutes. But the 6-foot-3 off guard could hit only one more shot in the period, a three pointer, to give him 15 points at the half. Norman added two field goals on nine tries in the second half to finish with 19 points.

Meanwhile, Davis, who passed Kenny Battle to move into 12th place on the all-time Huskie scoring chart, added 11 points in the first 20 minutes.

“We did start off pretty hot,” said Davis, who added 19 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds to the Huskie attack. “After you miss a couple shots, you have to try to start getting everyone else involved. We fell out of rhythm and we didn’t want to push things too far.”

The deadly shooting lost by Norman was quickly found by Middleton. He tallied all of his 14 first-half points in a 26-11 SIU run which pulled the Salukis out of a five-point deficit and into a 39-29 lead late in the stanza.

Nurnberger used his outside shooting to tally 9 points by intermission, at which the Salukis led 43-37. He finished the game with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

In the second half, the Saluki backcourt dominated. Middleton, who entered the game averaging 24 points per game, used a series of drives, offensive tip-ins and long perimeter shots to score 14 more second-half points. He finished the game with 28 points, but was also a factor on the boards, where he pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds. He also dished off 7 assists.

The 6-foot-2 senior’s quickness and body control made him difficult for his NIU counterparts to defend. Because of his ability to lean in toward the basket while shooting, Middleton drew numerous fouls as he finished 10-of-14 from the free-throw line.

“Middleton would drive to the hole and try to get everybody to drop on him,” Davis said. “He would always look for Nurnberger to kick it out and he was sticking the threes in the second half.”

“They’re both good guards,” NIU coach Jim Rosborough said. “We were aware of how good they were and where we had to get after them.”

Davis and Norman shot a combined 13-of-33 in the game while Middleton shot 8-of-15 and Nurnberger threw in 7-of-13 shots from the floor. Sophomore guard Brett Andricks came off the NIU bench to add 13 points, most of them late, on 5-of-7 shooting.