Mark A. Cunningham
It was a wonder how NIU would respond after scoring 25 points in a game. Never in our wildest imaginations did we envision a last-second jumper would propel them to victory against Kent State.
You already like sports. It's why you're on this site, and bookmarked many others in your browser. I don't need to convince you why they are great events to witness, experience, play, read about, and understand. There are other souls in the vast universe who believe the entire hobby of sports is a big waste of time, other than maybe getting some exercise.
But consider Northern Illinois basketball in the last two games. You remember their agony. They became an Internet joke. And it's hard to blame them; 25 points isn't many for a Division I team.
The very next game was tonight against Kent State — a proud MAC basketball program who is used to winning 20 games annually. They're having a bit of a down year but they did beat Nebraska by double digits and nearly topped OHIO last Saturday. We wondered how long it would take NIU to score four points tonight: as it turned out, just 74 seconds. They raced out to an 11-1 lead and looked like a confident team who passed well on offense and played sound defense on the other end. After leading for most of the game, adversity struck again: the Huskies' eight-point lead with just over two minutes left was completely burned to the soil by Kent State wing Devereaux Manley, who knocked down three 3-pointers in succession.
NIU had the last possession and stuck the ball in the hands of their playmaker Abdel Nader, who stepped back and hit a two-pointer just inside the arc with two seconds left. Kent State's desperation half-court shot wasn't even close.
The Huskie players then went nuts at center court. And you couldn't blame them one bit. They went from that to this. It's hard not to feel something warm and fuzzy for this team. They're not a very good squad, but they bounced back from awful national exposure — things that could rip apart the scabs and psyche of a program even further — to a thrilling victory. What brought this full circle was that Nader's game-winner — four days after his team scored 25 points — gave him 26 on the night.
Just like in life, embarrassment feels like a permanent monolith at the time you're experiencing it. But in the long run it's just a temporary setback. Between those two games, take a wild guess at which one Nader and the rest of the Huskies are going to remember 10 years from now.