Huskies entertain Sunshine Boys

By Jim Wozniak

On one hand, Saturday night marks a return home for the NIU men’s basketball team.

On the other hand, it might send people scrambling for a directory to see where NIU’s opponent comes from. The Huskies take on Florida International at 7:30 in Chick Evans Field House. NIU is 7-13 entering the game, while the Sunblazers are 6-8. Both teams are coming off losses.

Florida International is a Division II school from the land of Don Johnson and Miami Vice. The Sunblazers applied for Division I status with the National Collegiate Athletic Association but were turned down. NIU is the 11th Division I opponent Florida International has played this year.

“I look at Saturday as a big game for us, where we have to get ourselves on the backswing,” said NIU Coach Jim Rosborough. “I anticipate we’ll respond and do a good job. We can’t overlook anybody.”

The Huskies come into the game after losing their first road game in a month. Rosborough still talks with disgust about the game but said he wants NIU to obliterate the 99-79 debacle from memory.

“We’re coming off one of the highlight performances in Huskie history,” Rosborough said sarcastically. “Last night was atrocious. I don’t know all the reasons why. Last night was just a hard lesson to swallow. I just told them (the players) now (Thursday) that was the worst game of the year, and we have to put that behind us now.”

NIU forward Mike Grabner said of the blowout, “I think it will help us. We’re going to build off this. You can’t play any worse than we did last night.”

osborough sized up the Sunblazers this way:

“They’re good athletes,” he said. “They’re good jumpers. They’re well-coached. They’ll play hard.”

osborough said NIU’s main advantage over the Sunblazers is height in the frontcourt. Florida International’s two probable starting forwards are 6-foot-6-inches and 6-foot-5, while the center is 6-foot-11.

Grabner said having the size advantage down low does not necessarily mean NIU will throw the ball inside all the time on offense.

“It all depends on the guards,” he said. “If they are hitting, they’ll take the shots.”

The Sunblazers’ probable starting lineup consists of Carlton Phoenix and Jerry Nash at forward, Jon Gorden at center and Ronnie Bryant and Charley Payne at guard. Phoenix tops the team with 13.4 ppg and 11.4 rbpg. He grabbed 15 rebounds in a loss to Barry Wednesday.

Nash is next on the list with 13 ppg and 5.7 rbpg. The rest of the starters average no more than 4.1 ppg.

Two players star off the Florida International bench. David Banks, a 6-foot-2 guard, usually replaces Payne early. He averages 11.6 ppg and 2.4 rbpg. Center James Thomas averages 8.2 ppg and 3.3 rbpg. Thomas just regained his academic eligibility this semester, but he recently had a case of the chicken pox.

“At this point, I think we’re going to have to keep their big men off the backboard,” said Florida International Coach Rich Walker. “We have to handle their pressure and not turn over the ball and try to get into our fast break.”

Walker is a Bowling Green State alumnus and was 0-3 as a player against the Huskies.

“It (the fieldhouse) was an open facility back then,” he said. “I think Billy Harris was in school at that time. Tom Jorgensen was the coach.”