Huskies lure enemies to their den

By Jeff Kirik

Jim Rosborough thinks Chick Evans Field House could cure the NIU basketball team’s four-game losing skid Saturday. On the other hand, he could think of easier teams to break the streak against.

Hot off a 55-point win Wednesday night, the Akron Zips invade the Huskie Den Saturday in an attempt to keep the Huskies in their downward plunge. NIU, now 4-10, has played seven consecutive games away from DeKalb, winning only two of those contests.

“Talent-wise, they may be as good a team as we play all year,” said Rosborough of the 9-5 Zips who defeated Otterbein 109-54 Wednesday. “They’re a well-balanced team. They’re deep and they’re strong inside.”

Akron coach Bob Huggins also has a weapon from the outside in junior Eric McLaughlin. The 5-foot-11 point guard not only leads his team in assists, but he also has used his soft perimeter shot to score a team-leading 17 points per game.

Rosborough knows his team will have to stop the speedy McLaughlin if the Huskies are to have a chance.

“He is very quick,” Rosborough said. “He’s an excellent leader, a good passer, he runs the break well and he shoots well, too. Hey, this kid’s good.”

NIU senior guard Rodney Davis will be assigned as McLaughlin’s personal escort throughout the night, and the winner of the defensive battle will probably be on the team that wins the game.

Huggins downplayed his team’s chances because of its poor road performance this season.

“We’re a young team,” he said. “I don’t know how our kids will react (at Chick Evans Field House). We’re 1-3 on the road. We went to places like Cleveland State, Youngstown State and Middle Tennessee and didn’t look too good.

“Davis is a great player and they (the Huskies) have some strong inside players, too. Any time a team has that combination it’s difficult to defend.”

Davis has been the Huskies’ leading scorer the entire season, but backcourt mate Randy Norman has been the one on fire lately, especially from 3-point country. The 6-foot-3 senior scored 27 points against Butler Jan. 9 and then turned in a 20-point effort in NIU’s 96-72 loss to Toledo Wednesday.

“Randy has always been a good shooter as long as he’s confident and in a rhythm,” Rosborough said. “But he knows in addition to shooting well, he has to play well defensively, too.”

The Huskie big men have dominated the boards this season, but stalled a little when they were outrebounded by the Rockets 38-33. It was the first time this season NIU had been outrebounded in a game.

John Culbertson, Mike Grabner, Donnell Thomas and Andrew Wells have carried most of the rebounding load for the Huskies this season. Each is averaging better than 6 rebounds a game through 14 games.

Ken Cullifer, a 6-foot-9 center and Shawn Roberts, a 6-foot-6 forward, lead the Zips’ inside game. Roberts is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer.

Rosborough said his team is looking forward to playing at home, but is not sure what the team’s problem has been lately.

“I’m as puzzled as the players are right now as to what the difference was between the Drake and Loyola games, when we played so well, and how badly we’ve played at other times,” he said.