Win over Western not just another ballgame

By Wes Swietek

Monday’s 82-77 win by the NIU men’s basketball team over Western Illinois at times resembled open gym night at the YMCA.

Between 37 combined turnovers, some unconscious shooting performances and abysmal refereeing, there was an out-of-bounds play that drew considerable attention considering it turned out to be meaningless.

With the Huskies battling to retain a shrinking lead in the second half at Chick Evans Field House, a ball batted by an NIU player was heading out of bounds toward the Leathernecks’ bench. Brian Molis raced after the ball to save it, but WIU head coach Jack Margenthaler grabbed the ball as it sailed over his head.

Molis and the Huskies protested, claiming that Molis could have saved the ball if Margenthaler hadn’t grabbed it. the referees ruled that the ball had already touched out of bounds before the coach touched it.

“I don’t remember it touching anything but me,” Margenthaler said. “If it bounced out of bounds—I don’t know. I thought it was in the air.”

NIU head coach Brian Hammel said he didn’t see whether or not the ball hit out-of-bounds first, but, “I know if he (Margenthaler) was a high school player I’d recruit the heck out of him with those instincts—he was right there,” Hammel said.

“I thought it was a moot point … Brian (Molis) came over to me and said ‘coach, I could have had it.’ I said, ‘Brian, Scottie Pippen couldn’t have gotten it.”

But the way almost everything was going right for Molis, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see him save the ball.

The 6-4 senior hit 9-of-16 shots for a game-high 27 points, including 14 NIU points in a row during one stretch. Monday’s performance was a complete opposite of his effort Saturday when he hit only 1-of-16 shots in a loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“He’s kind of a Jack Daniels player, because I’m going to need a bottle of it after I coach him,” Hammel said. “He’s a streaky player, he’s an emotional player and you have to be careful with him because sometimes his shots are somewhat questionable, but he’s that kind of player.

“Once he gets his rhythm, as he did (Monday), then he’s cooking. But at times, those shots don’t go in and then they don’t look so good. (But) I’d rather have him than not have him … he took over the ballgame.”

Both player and coach agree that Monday’s sloppy performance might have been due to a letdown from Saturday’s hyped contest against Wisconsin-Green Bay in front of a nearly-packed house.

“After having the place filled and all the excitement with Green Bay in here, then all of a sudden to lose the game—it’s kind of a downer,” Molis said. “It’s kind of hard to play the next game (whether it was) Western or anybody in our conference.”

“I thought we were tired (Monday), physically and mentally (because of) the let down after Saturday’s game,” Hammel said.

The rookie NIU coach celebrated his 100th career head coaching win with Monday’s triumph, but downplayed the achievement.

“It’s like age, it’s just a number,” Hammel said.

Hammel accumulated 91 of those wins as the head coach at Bentley College, a Division II school in Massachusetts.

“The credit (goes) to the players—I’ve got the easy part sitting on the sidelines.”

Hammels’ chance to notch win number 101 will come Saturday as the Huskies travel to take on Mid-Continent Conference foe Valparaiso.