NIU men’s basketball: Upset-minded Huskies head to Central Michigan

By Steve Shonder

What’s happening: Men’s basketball (10-13, 4-8 MAC) will try to upset the Central Michigan Chippewas (18-5, 8-4 MAC) 6 p.m. Wednesday in Mount Pleasant, Mich.


The Huskies are looking to find consistency in their play. They’ve been unable to sustain a strong offensive game or a strong defensive game through two halves. That inability to maintain their play for a full game has cost them in a lot of close games.

Saturday, the Huskies shot 56 percent and scored 41 points in the first half against the Western Michigan Broncos, but they allowed the Broncos to match their shooting. In the second half, NIU’s defense came out strong and limited the Broncos’ scoring chances. While there were other factors — offensive rebounding and free-throw shooting — that allowed Western Michigan to pull out the win, the Huskies couldn’t score like they did in the first half. They can’t afford a repeat performance in the final stretch of the season if they’re going to have any hope of hosting a first-round MAC Tournament game.

Central Michigan has been good offensively and is riding a three-game win streak. The Chippewas’ 80 points per game average makes their offense look better than it is as they’ve slowed down a bit since entering MAC play, but they’re still averaging 72.8 points per game since conference games began. While the Chippewas’ defense is ranked in the middle of the MAC, their turnover rate is what’s carried them beyond an average defense.

This will be another game where the Huskies won’t get away with a lot of mistakes because Central Michigan will make them pay. The best way for the Huskies to do this is to own the glass and take advantage of second-chance points. The two teams match up well rebounding-wise, and the Huskies will need to lean on their front court to own the inside and hope their guards can pick up everything else.

Players to watch

NIU redshirt senior Anthony Johnson had a strong first half against Western Michigan, scoring 13 points. He couldn’t find the basket in the second half, but expect another strong offensive game from him, especially if the Huskies are without junior Darrell Bowie again.

Central Michigan junior Chris Fowler has been the Chippewas’ leading scoring this season, averaging 15.7 points per game, but his scoring isn’t his only contribution. He also averages a conference-leading six assists per game. With Central Michigan running most of its offense through Fowler it’ll be up to the Huskies’ guards to slow him.

The quotes

• “We’re getting closer” to playing a full 40 minutes, said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “We play with great energy and great effort. For the full-40 we’re getting closer; we just need to play a little smarter.”

• “We’re ready for our next game,” Montgomery said. “We need to go up there and steal a few games. We’re right there in the thick of it. We have to battle injuries. But our focus right now is on Central Michigan.”