NIU coach Mark Montgomery (USA Today Sports Images)In the midst of a season in which scoring in college hoops could sink to its lowest levels in more than 60 years, we've witnessed five-point halves, 0-for-23 3-point shooting and a game in which both teams failed to break 40 points.
Somehow, someway, however, Northern Illinois managed to top all those.
In a woeful 42-25 loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday, the Huskies set a shot-clock era record by scoring only four first-half points and by shooting 13.1 percent from the field for the game. They trailed 18-4 at halftime and had only 13 points with four minutes to play in regulation before a late surge kept them from breaking the Division I record for fewest points in a game -- 20, set by Saint Louis against George Washington in January 2008.
If ever there were a team capable of setting records for anemic scoring, this freshman- and sophomore-heavy Northern Illinois team was certainly a good candidate. Not only had the Huskies (4-14) already had a five-point first half on Dec. 1 at Dayton, they also entered Saturday's game 336th in points per game (57.6), 334th in points per possession (0.86) and 339th in field goal percentage (37.1).
Eastern Michigan, which runs a Syracuse-esque two-three zone, was the ideal team to exploit Northern Ilinois' outside shooting futility. The Eagles slowed down the tempo, settled into their zone and let the Huskies brick shot after shot from behind the arc.
Northern Illinois shot 1 of 31 from the floor in the first half, including 29 consecutive misses. After 32 straight errant attempts from behind the arc, Daveon Balls finally made the Huskies' lone 3-pointer with 2:05 remaining to get his team to 1 of 33 from long range.
Northern Illinois is now one of only two teams who have scored four or fewer points in a half. Savannah State set the modern record when it got outscored by Kansas State 48-4 in the second half of an 82-25 loss on Jan. 7, 2008.
The only drama in the final minutes of Saturday's game was whether Northern Illinois would set the all-time record for lowest field goal percentage in a game set by Miami (Ohio) when it shot 8 of 60 against Dayton in 2001.
Had Eastern Michigan simply run out the clock on its final possession Saturday, Northern Illinois would have merely tied that mark. Instead a nailed 3-pointer by Eastern Michigan's Derek Thompson with seven seconds to go enabled the Huskies to miss one final shot and finish 8 of 61, the perfect ending to a day of record-setting futility.
Perhaps the funniest aspect of the game came hours after the final buzzer when the Northern Illinois PR staff had the unenviable task of finding a way to spin the game positively in its recap. Their attempt produced the following opening sentence: "Northern Illinois posted its best defensive effort in seven seasons allowing just 42 points on Saturday afternoon."
Good effort, guys. That probably won't be fans' lasting memory of this game though.
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