Final: NIU 57, Milwaukee 59
NIU gave it a good run, but in the end it wasn't enough. The Huskies lost 59-57 to Milwaukee – a team that beat national-runnerup Butler twice last season and returned two starters – to fall to 0-2 when Antone Christian's midcourt heave smacked off the backboard at the buzzer.
Certainly, tonight certainly left a much more favorable impression than NIU's 96-34 season-opening loss Friday at Purdue.
Timer Toler finished with a team-high nine points and added three rebounds. Aksel Bolin has nine points, a team-high nine rebounds, along with four assists. In all, 10 Huskies scored.
Milwaukee was led by Ryan Haggerty's 15 points and 12 rebounds. Ja'Rob McCallum added 12 points and five rebounds, but struggled shooting 2 of 7 from three.
10:46 first half: NIU 40, Milwaukee 39
Remember how only three players scored until the final minutes Friday at Purdue? Tonight, it's been completely different.
Ten NIU players have scored, led by Tim Toler's nine and Abdel Nader's six. The message is clear. The Huskies largely are a team without a star, but if it does what it's done so far tonight – crisp ball movement, multiple people chipping in – it can be competitive.
NIU is on a 17-4 run to take a 40-39 lead. More than that, it's defense has picked up in the second half. You get the feeling this is the first signs of Mark Montgomery's style.
Should be an interesting final 10 minutes.
15:35 first half: NIU 31, Milwaukee 37
NIU is just hanging around.
Milwaukee has been methodical tonight, consistently and clearly the better team. But it hasn't gone on a run to really separate itself from the Huskies, who trail just 37-31 with 15:35 left, and NIU has scored the past five points.
This game has been as ugly as its score indicates, with 29 combined turnovers and neither team shooting above 42 percent. NIU has seven steals. Milwaukee has six.
But at the second half's first media timeout, it's NIU that has momentum.
Halftime: NIU 23, Milwaukee 35
It wasn't always pretty, but NIU will enter the half trailing just 35-23. Considering the Huskies have 16 turnovers, that's something to be thankful for.
Milwaukee hasn't played its best – with nine turnovers of its own dampening its 12 of 24 shooting, 4 of 9 from behind the 3-point arc – but the Huskies defense has a lot to do with that. There have been fewer breakdowns in the first half, fewer open threes, and NIU is making things tougher on the Panthers than it did for Purdue.
If not for Milwaukee guard Ja'Rob McCallum, the game would be closer. McCallum has a game-high 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting, exactly what you would expect from a former Marion (Ind.) High player. (Yes, I'm also from Marion.)
Tim Toler leads NIU with seven points on 3 of 7 shooting. Antone Christian has four points and four rebounds. Christian hasn't brought the ball up the court consistently in the first half, yielding those responsibilities to Marquavis Ford and Zach Miller. To me, he's looked more comfortable playing off the basketball.
Overall, certainly a vast amount of improvement in the first half, even if it isn't pretty.
11:46 first half: NIU 6, Milwaukee 12
The offense is still struggling mightily, but NIU's defense has been better in the first eight minutes.
The Huskies failed to close out on the perimeter only once, giving up a three-pointer to Milwaukee's Kaylon Williams. Overall, the defense has been good enough to force four turnovers and keep the Panthers to a 12-6 lead.
5 minutes before tip: NIU v. Milwaukee
DeKALB – Northern Illinois will tip off for a regular-season home game in a matter of minutes, and the Huskies will have a stiff first test.
All you need to know about tonight's opponent, Milwaukee, is Jan. 23, 2011. That day, Milwaukee won at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse, 86-80, in overtime. It was the Panthers' second win of the season against the Bulldogs, who went on to make the NCAA championship game for the second conseucitve season. Much of Milwaukee's lineup returned for this season.
NIU is coming off the worst loss in program history, 96-34 at Purdue. Amazingly, Milwaukee may be even better than the Boilermakers. Should make for an interesting night.
– Ryan Wood, email@example.com