Men’s basketball earns first wins of season

By Brian Belford

Victory would be found for NIU men’s basketball over winter break.

While the Huskies went 1-4 during their five-game home stand over the break, they earned their first win with a 72-46 blowout over Roosevelt.

The Huskies entered MAC play on Jan. 7, and lost 47-40 against the Eastern Michigan. From there, NIU traveled to Western Michigan, where it played hard, but lost 77-68 against the Broncos.

Over the break, Huskies senior forward Tim Toler led all players in scoring, averaging 12.1 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game over six games. Toler’s most productive game came against DePaul, where he recorded his first double-double of the season, finishing with 18 points and 13 boards.

The Huskies (2-13, 0-2 MAC) then turned to their next opponent in Central Michigan (7-9, 2-1 MAC) looking to add their second victory of the season. The freshman duo of Abdel Nader and Stian Berg helped NIU do just that.

Nader and Berg were in the zone from tip-off until the final buzzer, as they led NIU pass Central Michigan 74-66. The Huskies shot 55 percent from the field, including 63 percent from downtown, knocking down 12 of 19 three pointers.

“That’s why this game is very humbling,” said Central Michigan coach Ernie Zeigler. “As coaches, you prepare for games, you look at percentages. Coming into the game, [NIU was] shooting 28 percent from the field, but when you have confidence, sometimes the basket is like an ocean, and they just go in.”

Nader scored the Huskies first 13 points, and both he and Berg went a perfect nine-for-nine from beyond the arc. NIU also played well defensively, holding Central Michigan to 27 percent shooting from the field and out-rebounded the Chippewas 39 to 22.

Nader said NIU wasn’t specifically looking to shoot the three, but once he started getting into a groove, the shots just kept falling through the net.

“I don’t think we came in looking to shoot the three, it just sort of happened,” Nader said. “My team really helped give me the confidence I needed to shoot and make those shots. We were just running motion and I just started feeling it.”

NIU coach Mark Montgomery said that the first win against a D-I team and a tough MAC rival had finally helped lift the weight off this team’s losing ways.

“It wasn’t a monkey anymore; it was an elephant,” Montgomery said. “I could finally exhale. I’m just proud of my guys and proud of my coaches. We don’t want to be known only for our defense and our rebounding. I enjoy offense. I want our guys to score, and this is a step in the right direction. It’s a long season, but we’re going to enjoy this tonight.”

Central Michigan made a late run and started to regain some ground by intentionally fouling to try to get the ball back and save time. But, it was too little too late.

“We played hard and tough for about six minutes, and, yeah, maybe it could have helped us steal a win,” Zeigler said. “But they deserved to win this game because they were tougher than us for 34 minutes of this game.”