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Northern Illinois basketball and the anatomy of a 25-point game

After just four points at halftime, a team that struggled offensively had only one practical way to win the game: shoot their way out of a hole and hope some basketballs went in. They just didn't.

Hustle Belt illustration

I've always been fascinated with the way that athletic departments dress up their language in game stories. In a win, there is no issue with using words like "dismantles" or "hammers" or "burns" the opposition. In a loss, they "drop a decision" or "suffer a setback." The game story for the NIU site was innocuous enough:

Huskies Fall at Eastern Michigan

NIU posts best defensive effort since 2005-06, allowing just 42 points

Well, that's true! They mentioned the 13.1 percent field goal shooting, but didn't mention it was a new NCAA low, nor do they have any reason to put that in there. Especially when a game hit the Internet nexus with such force an intrigue on Saturday afternoon: whoa, a Division I basketball team scored just four points in the first half. That'll get your attention.

Let's also give Eastern Michigan some credit. Defense is what won them the MAC West last year and with any hope, it's going to be their flagship attribute this season to defend the title. With Rob Murphy being a Jim Boeheim disciple, EMU plays a 2-3 zone and it was evident that the Huskies were unable to attack it. They couldn't get open shots, and even when they did, as time went on there was a factor of desperation to drain it. If anyone is a playmaker on the team, it is Abdel Nader, and he couldn't get anything to fall either. Nobody else on the team had a puncher's chance of penetrating the zone and getting some easy layups. Not until perimeter guys could sink some threes.

Let's look at their two MAC victories this year. They won at Miami by 11, thanks to making 9 of 13 3-pointers. When they beat up CMU by 13 on the road, they made 10 of 19. So even though shooting the ball is not their strength, it's not like they can avoid, y'know, getting points. Their best — nay, ONLY — gambit was to keep shooting and hope they went in. So even though they shot a dismal 0-for-17 on threes in the first half, and ultimately 1-for-33, the Huskies kept hurling up those 3-pointers almost recklessly. They did this even coming out of timeouts, which led me to believe coach Mark Montgomery was instructing them properly. It was one of two ways out of the game. The other one was to pray that time sped up.

So I don't entirely blame the Huskies for continuing to heave up treys, because you'd think some of them would've gone in. They were only down 14 points at halftime, and as mentioned in the NIU gamer, their defense did play well. So a couple of 3-pointers, which usually happen in succession, combined with some defensive stops — which they also did reasonably well — could've hewed the lead to eight, putting some pressure on Eastern to make some baskets on the other end.

Now for the bad news. NIU has to play EMU again, but if there's a silver lining it's at home on Wednesday, February 27. I suppose we should start placing bets on an over-under for that game.