Men back on track after win

It feels good to smile.

That was the sentiment BG men’s coach Dan Dakich expressed immediately after his team ran Northern Illinois off the Anderson Arena court Saturday afternoon. The Falcons evened their Mid-American Conference record and for a moment overshadowing a rocky first half of the 2003-2004 campaign.

“This was a very good effort by our team; I thought we competed and overcame things,” Dakich said. “We haven’t really been good at overcoming a lot of things, and I liked the fight in our kids. This is a game I thought we had to win. You don’t want to go down 1-3 in the MAC.”

The Falcons, after beating Detroit at home just before break, suffered two close losses (Fairfield, 70-60 and American, 73-64) in Hawaii before beating Lamar in the tournament finale. The Falcons then looked impressive in their Mac home opener Jan. 3 in defeating Eastern Michigan, 84-68, but reverted back to their inconsistent ways Wednesday night in a road loss to Ball State.

With a plethora of new faces on the court this season, the Falcons at times so far have looked a bit out of sync on both ends of the floor. That was not the case Saturday, and BG center Kevin Netter said the team is beginning to gel.

“We all know each other and how each other played, it’s just we had to get a chemistry going on the court,” he said. “We have to pick each other up; if someone’s having a bad game, we gotta have four other guys on the court helping out.”

In Saturday’s contest, BG used perhaps its most complete performance of the year to down the Huskies, who along with the Falcons, were picked by many to contend for the conference title. But after cutting BG’s 30-14 first-half lead to five at halftime, NIU steadily let the Falcons increase their lead again over the opening minutes of the second half.

Marcus Smallwood, who scored just four points in the first half, scored six points before the first media timeout in the second half, but BG’s Kevin Netter did him one better in that span, scoring seven after tallying just three in the first half. After that first timeout, Netter hit another bucket and a free throw by Matt Lefeld increased the Falcon lead to 46-35.

The BG lead was 13 seven minutes later, but John Reimold picked up his fourth foul and Smallwood split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 61-49. A Ron Lewis three, though, ignited a 7-2 run that gave the Falcons a 68-51 lead, their biggest of the second half. NIU cut the lead to eight with 50 seconds left, but Steven Wright made two free throws to ice the victory.

“We lost a tough one at Ball State, and coach basically challenged us to come back and play with effort and play as hard as we could,” said Netter, who scored 19 points in 33 minutes. “That’s how we have fun. The guys told me I needed to pick up my game some … [Former Falcon and MAC Player of the Year] Anthony Stacey came in and told us that as soon as you reach the court it’s all about business. So I had to come to work.”

Ron Lewis scored 19 to match Netter’s output, and Reimold chipped in with 14 and Josh Almanson 12. BG made 27-of-36 free throws, to just 17 freebies made by the Huskies.

“The outcome of this game was determined at the free throw line,” NIU coach Rob Judson said. “Bowling Green did an outstanding job of taking the ball to the basket, and getting the ball inside and forcing us to foul. Another key was Netter; every time we had a chance to make a run, it seemed like Netter got a rebound-putback. Those are heartbreakers — he was a heartbreaker today.”