|NIU winning games - and believers - in MAC play|
|Written by Paul Bowker|
DeKALB, Ill. -- Since losing five consecutive games in December, Northern Illinois has caught fire. |
Add Western Michigan to its victim list. NIU sophomore guard Mike DiNunno scored a season-high 21 points and the Huskies overcame a 14-point deficit to win their fourth straight game, 87-77 over the Broncos. The Huskies (6-8, 2-0 Mid-American West) have won five of their last six games and have won both MAC games by at least 10 points -- their only loss in that stretch was to 19th-ranked Temple. The four-game win streak is the longest at NIU under head coach Ricardo Patton; the former Colorado University coach is in his third year with the Huskies.
I told the guys in the locker room after the game, a lot of people probably gave up on us early because no one wants to admit we played a (heck) of a schedule that I think were going to benefit from, have benefited from, Patton said.
DiNunno had a career-high 10 assists, giving him a career-first double-double.
NIUs Xavier Silas scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half, and the Huskies bench, led by Sean Kowals nine points, outscored the Broncos bench 18-0 in the second half. NIU manhandled WMU on the boards in the second half, outrebounding the Broncos, 24-15, and 42-34 overall.
We knew they were a physical team, we knew we had to play physical, even more so than we usually play, Kowal said. We crashed the offensive glass, we got put-backs, we boxed out.
They out-physicaled us and came away with rebounds. Weve got to learn from this, said WMUs Martelle McLemore, who scored 16 points and had 6 rebounds but was held to one rebound in the second half.
The Broncos, who will host rival Central Michigan on Saturday, threatened to turn the game into a rout early. A 13-0 run, fueled by four points each from Kool and Donald Lawson (12 points, team-high 7 rebounds), put WMU up, 13-5. Less than 10 minutes into the game, the Broncos opened up that lead to 14.
To start the game, they were on fire, Patton said. They hit some big shots.
WMUs early offensive attack woke up the Huskies. NIU fought back to tie the game at 41 by halftime. WMU hit just four baskets in the final eight minutes of the first half, and DiNunno led NIUs charge by hitting five 3-pointers in the first half.
We cant take our foot off the gas pedal, Kool said. When we went up (by 14), we kind of backed off a little bit.
The score was still tied at 64 with 8:59 left, when DiNunno hit two free throws and gave the Huskies the lead for good. WMU trailed by six, 79-73, with two minutes to go, but the Broncos hit just two baskets down the stretch while the Huskies hit six consecutive free throws and Najul Ervin came off the bench to deliver a slam-dunk with 4 seconds left.