DeKALB – There have been plenty of moments over the past month that the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team would like to forget.
There were blowout losses. There were games that yielded a stalled offense, games that showcased a questionable defensive effort. There were embarrassments.
NIU’s 64-58 loss to Central Michigan (9-18, 6-7 Mid-American Conference West) on Wednesday night wasn’t one of them. But as well as the Huskies played, to lose this game might hurt more than the rest.
“We feel really fortunate to come out with a victory tonight,” Chippewas coach Ernie Zeigler said. “You had two teams that were fighting for what’s left of their season. You look at the first half, and it was just like a knockout, drag-out, heavyweight bout. You take the punch, I take the punch. You take the punch, I take the punch.
“We were fortunate, and maybe somewhat lucky.”
Whatever compliments Zeigler gave NIU (7-19, 3-10 MAC West), the end result is the same.
It was the Huskies’ eighth straight loss and their 10th in the past 11 games. Their last win came at home Jan. 26 against Akron. With NIU’s next game Saturday at Toledo, it will be at least a month in between wins.
“It’s tough,” junior Tim Toler said, “but you can’t let this game affect you. You’ve got to move on. We’ve still got practice. We’ve still got Toledo this Saturday. You can’t just dwell in the past.”
NIU coach Ricardo Patton said the losing isn’t what upsets him. Instead, it’s the constant injuries he says he’s frustrated with.
The Huskies were again without their starting point guard Bryan Hall. Then, midway through the second half, NIU’s best player Xavier Silas went down with a twisted left ankle. Silas tried to return moments later, but he was quickly subbed out again and did not return.
“There are a lot of things that are outside a coach’s control,” Patton said. “We’re going to keep battling, keep coaching and keep fighting. I don’t think anyone would’ve guessed we’d have as many injuries in our program as we’ve had this season.
“I think with a full compliment of players, we’ve played some pretty good basketball. But I don’t think we’ve had our full compliment of guys since (the Akron) game.”
Central Michigan did a good job defensively on Silas, holding him to 10 points on 5 of 11 shooting. It was the first time in three games Silas scored in double figures.
NIU was able to stay competitive with its star on the bench, leading by as much as five points with just more than five minutes left.
“Their best player goes down, and they were right there ready to finish the game off,” Zeigler said. “... I don’t know if surprised was the right word. We thought they would get rattled somewhat, and they didn’t. That’s a testament to those young kids and how well they were fighting.”