Men’s basketball to face Western Michigan in second round of MAC Tournament


Northern Star File Photo – Antone Christian (3) and Jeremiah Jackson (43) January 31 2012

By Brian Thomas

After its upset over Eastern Michigan in the first round of the MAC tournament, NIU men’s basketball moves onto Cleveland, Ohio to face the No. 8 seed Western Michigan today.

The Huskies (5-25, 3-13 MAC) are coming off a 55-52 win over the Eagles, while the Broncos (13-19, 6-10 MAC) took care of Ball State 69-63.

“There’s no greater feeling,” said NIU sophomore Antone Christian. “Especially with all the stuff we’ve been through this year, the ups and downs with a young team. Hopefully, we can keep this baby rolling.”

This will be the third meeting between these two teams this season, with Western Michigan coming out on top in the first two games, 77-68 and 78-53.

“Rebounding, we have to get back to rebounding,” Christian said. “They out-toughed us at home, out-played us, so we have to get back to our roots of offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding, cutting out and doing stuff that we have been taught since day one.”

The Broncos are a balanced scoring team, as they have five different players that can score in double figures.

“We need to be locked in on defense,” Christian said. “Everyone needs to play great help defense but at the same time they need to keep the ball in front of them.”

Western Michigan is led by Demetrius Ward who averages 11.6 points per game, while both Flenard Whitfield and Matt Stainbrook average 11.5 points per game. Mike Douglas averages 10.9 points per game and Nate Hutcheson averages 9.5 points per game.

“The balanced scoring shows that we have players capable of putting up good numbers on any night,” said Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins during the MAC coaches conference call Tuesday morning.

In order for the Huskies to advance to the next round of the tournament, it will come down to their ability to play strong defense and get stops.

“We have to have great intensity on defense,” Christian said. “Defense creates everything for us. We haven’t been a great scoring team this year, but defense has always kept us in the game, so we need to continue to play defense and the offense come to us.”

Since the regular season ended, NIU has been motivated and only looking ahead to Cleveland and getting to the MAC championship.

“Coach Montgomery told us to throw the regular season record away,” Christian said. “It’s all about tournament time; this is what we live for. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve had a poster up in the locker room that says, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ It has us in Cleveland becoming MAC champions, so that’s the goal right now.”