The second game of my #ALLCAPSDAY experience was the battle between the Northern Illinois Huskies and the hometown Akron Zips. Looking at the archives from this year, it looks like the Huskies have only been recapped once. Let's dig a little deeper into the Huskies' problematic season.
Mark Montgomery was announced as the Huskies head man on March 24th, 2011. He was an assistant at Michigan State under Tom Izzo for ten years, where he reached three final fours. He was inheriting a team that went 9-21 under Ricardo Patton and was losing a do-it-all performer in Xavier Silas. Silas averaged 22.3 points per game last season, which was good for seventh in the nation. Tim Toler was the highest scorer of the returning players, averaging over 9.9 points per game.
In the offseason, the roster turnover was tremendous. Silas, Jeremy Landers, and Michael Patton (Ricardo's son) graduated. Regular contributors Lee Fisher, Cameron Madlock, and Nate Rucker all left the team. That left Montgomery with six returning players to work with, and one (DeMarcus Grady) only played half of the season because he was also on the football team. That meant Montgomery had to recruit hard. He was hired for his ties to the Chicago area (NIU is located in De Kalb, an hour outside of Chicago). Recruiting started promisingly when he received word from 3-star recruits Andre Henley and Abdel Nader that they would be bringing their services to De Kalb. Henley had offers from schools like DePaul and Iowa State, while Nader was wanted by schools including Baylor, Marquette, DePaul, Ole Miss and USC. To say that these two were good gets was an understatement. Montgomery also brought in twins Keith and Kevin Gray and Stian Berg, a Swede who was friends with another Swede already on the team, Aksel Bolin. Things were looking like they were on the upswing for the Huskies.
But, it all started to go south quickly. Right before the season started, Henley was caught with possession of marijuana, and was promptly booted off of the team. Then the losses kept mounting. A 96-34 loss at Purdue. A 77-72 home loss to Nebraska-Omaha, who wasn't even a true Division I team yet. They started 0-11, before finally getting their first win on January 2 over Roosevelt University. Roosevelt, by the way, is an NAIA school that had revived their entire athletics program in 2010. After their first conference win over Central Michigan, six more losses followed. During that stretch, leading scorer Toler was booted for violating team rules. No one said the rebuilding process is an easy one.
That left Northern Illinois with a 3-19 record coming into the game with Akron, who was 17-7 and 9-1 in the conference. Most were expecting a beat down, and Vegas gave Akron some pretty heavy odds. But, in a conference like the MAC anybody can beat anybody else on any night (love clichés). That very bad cliché became very apparent in the first half. It was a struggle for both teams in the opening minutes. At the under 12:00 media timeout, the score was Huskies 11, Zips 10. Zips fans were getting nervous, and they knew their team could play better than the score suggested. Akron made a little 12-4 run during the last five minutes of the half to push the lead to seven at halftime.
I'm sure Akron coach Keith Dambrot gave his team an earful at halftime. They were letting an inferior opponent stay with them and dominate them on the glass. Northern Illinois had twenty rebounds, and ten of them were on the offensive side. Akron had only nine total.
Whatever Dambrot said worked, as the Zips came out running in the second half. Consecutive superhoops by Alex Abreu and Quincy Diggs pushed the lead to thirteen, and Demetrius Treadwell had a sweet #OMGPUTBACKDUNX to fire up the crowd. That was in the midst of a 14-0 Akron run that put the game out of reach. Nik Cvetinovic led the Zips with 14 but Treadwell stole the show with 11 and 8. Nader and Keith Gray both led the Huskies with 13 points apiece.
THE HUSKIES CAN'T HANG THEIR HEADS THOUGH. YES, IT IS A TOUGH YEAR. YES, THEY MAY ONLY WIN FIVE GAMES. BUT, IT'S ABOUT BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE. NORTHERN ILLINOIS HAS TALENT; THERE IS NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT. MONTGOMERY IS A GOOD COACH AND A GREAT GUY TO HAVE LEADING THE PROGRAM. IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS, THE HUSKIES SHOULD BE ABLE TO COMPETE AT THE TOP OF THE MAC.
at AKRON 75, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 51 02/11/2012
NORTHERN ILLINOIS 3-20 (2-9) -- A. Nader 3-8 5-7 13; S. Berg 0-6 0-0 0; A. Bolin 2-3 1-2 5; K. Gray 2-4 2-2 6; M. Ford 1-6 0-0 2; K. Gray 5-10 3-4 13; T. Storm 1-6 0-0 2; T. Nixon 0-2 0-0 0; J. Jackson 1-2 0-0 2; A. Christian 3-7 0-0 7; D. Grady 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 18-54 12-17 51. AKRON 18-7 (10-1) -- A. Abreu 3-5 0-0 7; D. Treadwell 3-5 5-8 11; N. Cvetinovic 5-6 4-5 14; N. Harney 5-7 2-5 12; B. Walsh 2-6 3-4 8; C. Gilliam 3-7 0-0 7; Q. Diggs 2-4 0-0 5; Z. Marshall 1-3 5-5 7; B. McClanahan 0-1 2-2 2; C. Oldham 1-2 0-0 2; L. Avsec 0-0 0-0 0; K. Petersen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-47 21-29 75.
Three-point goals: NIU 3-15 (T. Storm 0-3; A. Christian 1-1; T. Nixon 0-2; A. Bolin 0-1; S. Berg 0-3; M. Ford 0-1; K. Gray 0-1; A. Nader 2-3), AKR 4-13 (C. Gilliam 1-3; B. Walsh 1-5; B. McClanahan 0-1; Q. Diggs 1-3; A. Abreu 1-1); Rebounds: NIU 30 (K. Gray 6), AKR 23 (D. Treadwell 8); Assists: NIU 4 (A. Bolin 1), AKR 13 (A. Abreu 5); Total Fouls -- NIU 21, AKR 18; Fouled Out: NIU-K. Gray; AKR-None.