DeKALB – Two days later, there were no tangible signs of change.
By Wednesday afternoon, those glorious numbers had been wiped off the Convocation Center scoreboard. Talk was of moving forward, not celebrating the past. The practice schedule remained the same as it had when the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team was winless.
But the intangible – the extra confidence and joy, the “monkey off the back” feel – was easy to see at the Huskies practice.
“Losing can take a toll on you,” senior forward Tim Toler said. “One thing we tried not to do was get down on ourselves. But now there are definitely a lot of happy faces, a lot of smiling.”
Those smiles were worn by everyone – from first-year coach Mark Montgomery to the freshmen who finally got to experience a victory. But Monday’s 72-46 final score against Roosevelt, which gave NIU its first win in 12 games this season, was long gone from the scoreboard hanging over the court, and for good reason.
All along, Montgomery said what truly mattered this season was Mid-American Conference play. It’s how his players stomached each loss in a 0-11 nonconference start to their season.
Now, the circumstances have changed, but with the MAC opener against Eastern Michigan looming Saturday the challenge is the same.
“Everybody is ready to play Eastern Michigan,” sophomore guard Antone Christian said. “The timing of the win really couldn’t have been any better, to be honest, because it gives us confidence going into conference play Saturday. But everybody has moved on, and everybody has really been talking about Eastern Michigan. We started talking about Eastern Michigan pretty much as soon as we won the game.”
Montgomery wants his players to enjoy their first victory. From August to January, it took five months of hard work to get the opportunity.
But he’s also stressed the bigger importance of not being satisfied with the past.
“No matter what we say, we’re going to take one game at a time, and Roosevelt was next on the schedule,” Montgomery said. “And it was earned. We were down 13, and we had to come back and win. But I told them, ‘Now it’s a whole new season, a new focus, a new challenge.’ We’ve got to raise the bar because in conference play, everyone is tougher, everyone is stronger, everyone is familiar with each other.
“So we enjoyed [the win] for the moment, but it became the next day, we moved on and started working at it again.”