Final: WMU 78, NIU 53
A horrid second half led to a 78-53 loss for NIU against Western Michigan, the Huskies second straight loss of more than 20 points and eighth defeat in the past nine games.
NIU was led by Tony Nixon's 12 points. Tyler Storm added nine.
Western Michigan was led by Flenard Whitfield's 17 points.
Ready Thursday's edition of the Daily Chronicle for full coverage.
9:46 second half: WMU 64, NIU 38
When NIU opened the second half with five straight points, it seemed the Huskies could be competitive all 40 minutes against Western Michigan.
From there, things spiraled out of control quickly.
NIU has lost contact, trailing the Broncos 64-38 with 9:46 left. The defense that played well for much of the first half has disappeared. Western Michigan is getting points easily and often.
And, the bad thing is, there's still plenty of basketball left.
15:19 second half: WMU 44, NIU 35
Compared to a dead first half, the first four-plus minutes of the second were an offensive fury.
Both teams traded made shots, with Western Michigan holding a 44-35 lead. Both teams have scored 21 points in the first 4:41, almost half the total in the first half.
Tyler Storm started the second in half in Keith Gray's place and made his second three-pointer. He has six points on 2 of 4 shooting. Tony Nixon leads the way with 12.
Demetrius Ward made his fourth three-pointer early in the second half and has 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting.
Halftime: WMU 34, NIU 24
If there's a silver lining to the first half, 20 minutes of basketball that were painful to watch from an offensive standpoint, it's that the Huskies' football team was recognized at center court.
Dave Doeren introduced his players to a mostly empty Convocation Center crowd, listing their accomplishments from the past fall and easily drawing the biggest applause of the night. The Huskies' men's hoops team hasn't offered much to smile about.
Western Michigan hasn't taken NIU out of the game yet, undoubtedly another positive. The Huskies had a chance to pull within eight points before Marquavese Ford's layup was blocked by Western Michigan's Flenard Whitfield at the buzzer. As it stands, the Broncos head to the locker room up 34-24.
NIU still has a chance to make a game of it in the second half. But so far, it hasn't been pretty.
The Huskies are shooting 10 of 28 (35.7 percent) from the field, and that's only after making some shots in the final couple minutes. NIU has taken care of the ball, their five turnovers limiting Western Michigan's fast-break opportunities. The Broncos have scored no points off turnovers. But NIU isn't getting easy points, either.
Tony Nixon leads the Huskies with 10 points. No one else has reached five. Western Michigan is led by Demetrius Ward's 12.
3:58 first half: WMU 27, NIU 17
Unlike earlier in the season, NIU has taken care of the basketball tonight with just three turnovers through the first 16 minutes. But, as it's been whenever the Huskies have struggled, they've shot the basketball terribly.
NIU is 7 of 21 from the floor and 1 of 7 from behind the three-point line, the most recent Abdel Nader's open look from the left wing that almost missed the rim entirely. Following its usual pattern, the Huskies haven't been able to score enough to support an OK defensive effort and trail 27-17 with 3:58 left in the first half.
It's not complicated. If NIU can't shoot the ball, it overshadows plenty of other good things it's doing. That's been the case tonight.
7:42 first half: WMU 19, NIU 14
Judging by the numbers, it's hard to find things to complain about with Western Michigan's offense so far. Sure, the Broncos' three turnovers may be a bit high, but not by much. And they're shooting 6 of 12 from the field, they've opened up with an 19-14 lead with 7:42 left in the half.
NIU will take that.
WMU center Matt Stainbrook hasn't had a shot attempt in the first 12 minutes. It's puzzling. The Broncos haven't had trouble pushing the ball inside, scoring eight paint points. And, clearly, NIU doesn't have the size to match up.
You would think WMU's best shot against undersized NIU is to ride Stainbrook. We'll see how it plays out.
The tipoff: NIU v. WMU
Only the most ill-informed would've tabbed Western Michigan as the Mid-American Conference West Divison favorites before the season, as they were by the MAC media.
The Broncos are not the best in the West, which is once again considerably weaker than the MAC East. They are a flawed. Their defense has been abused all season, ranking last in the conference with 70.8 points per game allowed. In their past four games – all losses – they've allowed at least 69 points three times.
But there is enough talent – and, more important, desperation – to make Western Michigan the heavy favorite tonight against Northern Illinois. A loss to the Huskies, and I don't see there is any hope left for March. Meanwhile, NIU will try to continue its solid play at home, where it has played reasonably well of late and beat Miami one week ago.
As disappointing as Western Michigan has been, it would be a good win for NIU. An identity-bolstering win. A turf-claiming win. We're just moments away from tipoff.
Stay tuned to HuskieWire throughout the night for more updates.
– Ryan Wood, email@example.com