DeKALB – Jake Anderson wanted Sean Kowal and Lee Fisher to move.
As the Northern Illinois sophomore guard held a yo-yo dribble with his right hand, he furiously waved the pair out of his way. He didn’t want them to set a screen as time dripped from the clock; he was on a mission to get to the basket.
Using his body to shield a pair of Central Michigan defenders, Anderson scooped in a righty layup with 00.1 on the clock for a 67-65 win that snapped a 10-game losing streak for the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team on Wednesday at the Convocation Center.
The losing streak haunted Anderson, who was still emotionally scarred by a pair of missed free throws in the closing seconds when the Huskies lost at Eastern Illinois last Saturday.
“I still had a bitter taste of the defeat,” Anderson said. “Not just the 10 straight games but to Eastern too. After the game my coaches and teammates said I would be in the same position again. I thought the time was now and I wanted to take full advantage of it.”
Anderson led NIU with 23 points, Xavier Silas had 17 and Sean Kowal added 12 points and 11 rebounds. Central Michigan was led in scoring by Jordan Bitzer with 20 points and Robbie Harman also chipped in 19 points.
The game turned for NIU in the second half as it stopped sacrificing scoring opportunities with costly turnovers and switched its defense to a full-court press.
Each first-half Huskies’ (9-18, 5-9) turnover seemed to have dire consequences as the Chippewas’ (13-14, 7-7) transition game either led to a dunk or wide open three pointer.
CMU had a 44-29 halftime lead and a deep Bitzer three at the halftime buzzer punctuated a commanding first half for CMU.
But NIU – the pre-season pick to finish second in the West Division of the Mid American Conference – stopped the self destructive turnover problem that plagued it in the first half.
As CMU cooled from the field in the second half, the Huskies promptly went on a 19-5 run.
The two teams seemed to change identities. CMU, which shot 67 percent from three-point range in the first half, couldn’t get an open look and was careless with the basketball while NIU was hustling to lose balls, closing out on shooters and moving the ball well in transition.
At halftime, NIU coach Ricardo Patton didn’t dazzle the Huskies with an elaborate second-half game plan.
“The message at halftime was simple,” Patton said. “It was rise up. We’ve got to want it and go get it. When you get down by 18 or 20 points early you take coaching right out of the game. Guys have to step up and want it then.”
A Silas steal and tomahawk jam cut the CMU lead to 57-54 at 10:22. NIU played with a sense of urgency on offense as Kowal was assertive in the low post and commanded the defensive boards.
The Huskies pestered CMU’s perimeter shooters in the second half, and they hit just 33 percent of their three’s. With Kowal on the boards, the Chippewas’ offense turned into a series of one-and-done possessions. NIU held a 34-21 rebounding edge and with Kowal controlling the block, held a 36-16 points in the paint advantage.
“Coach said we needed an inside presence,” Kowal said. “Tonight, I worked hard to fill that role. We did a great job with rebounding tonight and had real good team play.”
NIU plays its final road game of the regular season at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Eastern Michigan. Silas wants the Huskies to take their second-half intensity into the final two games of the regular season.
“They were getting to all the loose balls and outhustling us early,” Silas said. “That was a common theme in our 10-game losing streak. Tonight we wanted to get to loose balls and hustle plays. We wanted to step up and guard. Hopefully we can keep doing that.”