The NIU men’s basketball team proved to be as tenacious as a pack of bill collectors against Wright State last night.
The Huskies overcame serious foul trouble and an emotional Raiders squad on Senior Recognition night to almost pull off the upset. But the obstacles proved too taxing for the Huskies as Wright State collected a 78-73 win at Dayton, Ohio.
“Every athlete in our locker room should have an empty feeling in their stomach—if they don’t, then they’re not athletes,” NIU head coach Brian Hammel said.
“I thought the way they competed, the way they pulled together and how hard they played—it was a tremendous ballgame with all the adversity that we’ve gone through.”
The loss drops NIU to 10-16 overall with a final mark of 7-9 in the Mid-Continent Conference. Wright State moves to 15-11, 9-7.
The Huskies looked like they were on their way to finishing .500 in the conference as they jumped out to a sizable first-half lead. Mike Hidden buried two free throws with just under 6 minutes left in the opening half to give the Huskies a 33-20 lead—their largest of the game.
And although the Raiders slowly ate into NIU’s lead, the Huskies maintained a 41-32 lead at halftime.
But the portent of second half problems was evident by Brian Molis’ and Steve Oldendorf’s foul trouble—both had three at halftime.
Five minutes into the second half, Marlin Simms picked up his third and Molis his fourth. The Raiders took advantage of the thin NIU bench and pounded the ball inside to start an eventual parade to the free throw line.
Senior WSU guard Marcus Mumphrey hit two free throws to give the Raiders a 44-43 lead. NIU fought back as the lead continued to seesaw the rest of the way—but the writing for the Huskies was on the wall. Or, in this case, the free throw line.
Molis fouled out at the 11:50 mark and Oldendorf got his fourth 18 seconds later. Still, NIU was within two, 73-71, when Randy Fens nailed a short jumper with about 30 seconds left. But Mumphrey hit four free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
The Raiders paraded to the charity stripe 22 times in the second half (as opposed to NIU’s seven trips) to make the difference.
“To go against a team like that with the tremendous amount of talent and the size they had, for us to be right there going down the stretch, even without Brian, was difficult. It was a very, very difficult loss for the team,” Hammel said. “I told everyone to come out with their heads held high and to be proud to be a Huskie.”
NIU’s last regular season game is Saturday (2:05 p.m.) at Chick Evans Field House against Texas Tech.