Akron run enough to hold off Huskies

By Jeff Kirik

The NIU basketball team outplayed Akron for 34 minutes Saturday, but the six minutes the Huskies didn’t control proved to be fatal as the Zips held on for a 75-68 win at Chick Evans Field House.

Shawn Roberts’ layup with 16:37 left in the game started a 20-3 Akron run which saw the Zips turn a four-point deficit into a 57-44 lead. A late NIU rally fell short as 3,888 saw the Huskies’ record slip to 4-11. Akron moved to 10-5.

“I think for a split-second we kind of relaxed,” NIU center Andrew Wells said of Akron’s streak. “We had the lead most of the first half and we were pretty much controlling the tempo of the game. I think we relaxed one time too many and it enabled them to get that quick run on us.”

Todd Robinson, a 6-foot-10 Zip forward, scored eight points during the run and finished with a team-high 19 points. The junior was Akron’s main inside threat, but not its only one. Out of the Zips’ 75 points, 52 came from their frontcourt as AU abandoned its perimeter game and went solely to its big men.

NIU had leaped to an early 10-4 lead on the strength of three jumpshots by NIU forward Mike Grabner and the Huskies eventually held a 34-32 advantage at the half.

Foul trouble sent NIU postmen John Culbertson and Grabner to the bench for much of the second half, giving the Zips the opportunity to work the ball to their big men more effectively. Meanwhile, the Huskies struggled at the offensive end, hitting only 42 percent from the field for the game.

“We definitely need those two guys (Grabner and Culbertson) when the game is close,” said NIU forward Donnell Thomas, whose 10 rebounds helped the Huskies to a 45-36 advantage on the boards.

Akron’s Floyd Johnson hit a 5-foot jumper with 8:18 left to give the Zips their biggest lead of the game at 65-50. But that’s when the Zips stopped and Randy Norman started.

The Huskies’ senior guard drilled three consecutive three-point jumpers to move NIU within six. Norman hit five three pointers in the contest on his way to a game-high 21 points. The Huskies, however, could draw no closer than four points the rest of the way, even though the Zips did their best to let NIU back in the game by hitting on only 13 of their 28 free-throw attempts.

“I’ve been waiting for that off-guard to come in and start being a threat out there,” Huskie point guard Rodney Davis said of Norman, “and right now Randy has been a threat. That opens up a lot of things for me.”

Davis scored 12 points, five below his average, but contributed in more ways than one. The 6-foot-3 senior collected eight rebounds and seven assists in addition to holding Akron’s leading scorer, Eric McLaughlin, to 11 points.

“Both the guards (Norman and Davis) did a nice job,” Akron coach Bob Huggins said. “We just didn’t do a good job covering them in the zone.”

NIU coach Jim Rosborough was not discouraged by his team’s effort.

“I thought tonight you saw the kind of effort that we’re going to have to consistently have,” Rosborough said. “A team that did not give up. A team that battled and scrapped.”