Bennett shows NBA touch in win

By Wes Swietek

Several NBA scouts, along with 5,497 fans, were in attendance at Saturday’s NIU men’s basketball game against Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The scouts, at least, were not disappointed with what they saw.

The Huskie fans who helped swell the largest Chick Evans Field House crowd of the season witnessed a 78-70 loss to the Phoenix (18-2, 9-1).

The NBA scouts, including Walt Perrin, a member of NIU’s great 1971-72 team now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, witnessed another work of art by UW-GB guard Tony Bennett.

With Bennett setting up his teammates off surprisingly-quick penetrations and deft passing, the Phoenix exploded to a 21-2 lead over NIU (8-13, 5-6) just eight minutes into the game.

“I just come out and try to be real aggressive and if that’s getting the shot off, I’ll do that, but they had me pretty well bottled up and I was trying to penetrate and get the other guys the ball,” Bennett said.

A Mike Hidden three-pointer at the 12:40 mark finally broke the long NIU drought and the Huskies slowly narrowed the gap, drawing to within 35-23 late in the half.

But Bennett then showed why he is a projected first-round NBA draft choice. At the 1:23 mark, he hit a three-pointer at the top of the key. With 30 seconds left, he hit a ten-footer and then with the clock winding down and a hand in his face, he nailed a pro-distance three to make it 43-27 at halftime.

And as if more evidence of Bennett’s talents were needed, the 6-0 guard put on a show in the second half as well.

NIU crawled back into the game as first Randy Fens, then Hidden started connecting for NIU. Hidden scored seven-straight Huskie points on a pair of jumpers and a three-pointer to make it 58-50.

But, Bennett answered with eight-straight Phoenix points on a jumper and two three-pointers to make it 66-53 and effectively put the game out of reach.

“I look to either get to the hole or get the shot, be aggressive, create something—I do look to create something because that’s when I have to step up,” Bennett said.

“Its demoralizing. He’s a first-round draft choice and that’s what the great ones do—they make the big-time play,” NIU head coach Brian Hammel said.

The closest NIU would come after that was when Hidden hit a three with two seconds left to make the final 78-70 margin.

Bennett finished with 24 points, six assists and five three-pointers to overshadow Hidden’s 20-point effort which included 4-of-5 shooting from the three-point line.

“They usually say that the first five minutes of a game don’t mean much—tonight it really did,” UW-GB head coach and Tony Bennett’s father, Dick Bennett said. “We needed that cushion. I don’t remember us ever playing better than that. That cushion was what saved us because (NIU) made a gallant comeback.”

“The best part about the first half was that it ended,” Hammel said. “After getting a start like we did, we obviously never recovered. We made some good runs at them but were never able to sustain it.

“Wisconsin-Green Bay was the better team tonight—they came in here and flat-out beat us.”

The Huskies return to action with a 7:05 p.m. Mid-Continent Conference match tonight at the fieldhouse against Western Illinois (7-12, 3-6).