I really wasn't sure if they were going to pull off a victory this year. They began 0-11, lost to a Division III school in an exhibition (Carthage College) and fell to a transitional Division I program (Nebraska-Omaha). Tonight they were down as much as 13 points to NAIA institution Roosevelt University, a small private establishment in Chicago, and trailed by five points at halftime. The Roosevelt Lakers are no powerhouse. They lost by 20 points in an exhibition at winless D1 program Chicago State, then lost by 30 points to 4-12 Purdue University-Calumet, another NAIA school. They're 4-8 themselves on the year.
Well, now 4-9 thanks to the type of half that most schools should have against such competition. NIU won 72-46 on the heels of a 39-8 second half by the Huskies to give them their first win of the season — and on the second day of 2012.
I started watching a bit of the second half and it looked like NIU was going to continue its winless demise as they missed layup after easy layup. But Roosevelt also played sloppily and Northern finally started hitting shots. Antone Christian had 12 second-half points including two 3-pointers, finishing with 14 for the game. Three others finished with double-digit points and completely commandeered the rebounding margin, but then again nobody for RU was taller than 6'6".
All this despite NIU having 17 turnovers on the game. Mostly they waited for Roosevelt to miss (they were 2-for-27 in the second half) and were able to drive to the basket and create enough confusion for the big victory. But make no mistake — NIU is still the 12th best team in the MAC and I'm not sure if they have the operations to upset even Eastern Michigan, but the rebuilding has to start somewhere. Mark Montgomery finally has his first victory as a D1 head coach. And even guys like Antone Christian are happy for the win.
NIU opens MAC play on January 7 at home against EMU.