Smallwood stands up tall

By Matt Stacionis

The freshman swatted and spiked four Marshall shots in the NIU men’s basketball team’s 94-66 loss. And he managed his swinging success while guarding the Herd’s go-to guy.

Smallwood was given the toughest defensive assignment of his season by being asked to stop Tamar Slay, the prime scorer in the Mid-American Conference

His 22 total points aside, Smallwood pretty much handled his task. The Elgin native held his NBA prospect to 5 first-half points and topped himself off by tying a career-high 13. He also was thrown into the forefront of the NBA scouts’ eyes, while he was guarding their draft hopeful.

“He’s just an athlete,” Slay said. “He can get up. He’s strong. All you can really say about him is that he is a great athlete.”

Sporting his team-fad headband, Smallwood used his long arms as his primary defensive weapons. Although he fouled out, his aggressive style is something that will never go unnoticed by coaches or opposing players.

Smallwood joined a newly brewed starting lineup, which excluded senior Mike Brown and junior Leon Rodgers. NIU head coach Andy Greer said that Smallwood’s performance against Marshall could land him a little bit more time with the starting unit. Helping him in that bid was Rodgers’ performance. The 18 point-per-game player was held to 8 points on 2 of 13 shooting.

The forward also only managed one rebound in 29 minutes of play, compared to Smallwood’s three in 24.

“Marcus played with a lot of energy tonight,” Greer said. “I was happy with his play tonight. Marcus is a good defensive player. He’s good at making it difficult for people to score and that’s what he did with Tamar. I think Slay got some of his points while Marcus wasn’t guarding him.”

The Huskies opened the game on a 6-0 run, with Smallwood contributing a free-throw line jumper and a runner in the lane. He finished that first half with 6 points in 8 minutes, compared to Rodgers’ 3 in 17.

“He has a lot of confidence,” said Marshall head coach Greg White of Smallwood. “That’s what you want. He tries to make plays, but that’s what you want.”