The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 23, 4 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: NIU Convocation Center (9,100) -- DeKalb, Illinois. Television: None. Home Record: EIU 4-9, NIU 3-8. Away Record: EIU 2-11, NIU 2-11. Neutral Record: EIU 2-0, NIU 0-0. Conference Record: EIU 5-10, NIU 3-9. Series Record: Northern Illinois leads, 45-43.
GAME NOTES: East meets North on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center, as the Northern Illinois Huskies play host to the Panthers of Eastern Illinois in a BracketBuster matchup.
Eastern Illinois beat Ohio Valley Conference West Division leader Murray State last weekend, 79-70, but fell to East Division leader Belmont on Wednesday, 80-49. The loss was the third in the last four games for the Panthers, who will visit Chicago State in another non-conference game on Tuesday. The Panthers are just 2-11 this season as the visiting team.
Northern Illinois has lost five straight in Mid-American Conference play. The latest of those setbacks came a week ago at Western Michigan, 66-58. Today's contest begins a three-game homestand for the Huskies, who are just 3-8 on their home floor.
NIU holds a slim 45-43 edge in the all-time series, although EIU won the most recent meeting, a 67-55 decision on Nov. 20, 2011.
The good news for the Panthers in Wednesday's game was that they held Belmont's top two scorers to a combined seven points. Unfortunately, the Panthers committed 11 first-half turnovers while allowing Belmont to shoot 60 percent from the floor, as they dug themselves a 22-point hole at intermission. In the second half, EIU shot just 7-of-28 from the floor and was unable to cut into the margin. Sherman Blanford had a team-high 14 points in the loss, although he scored only two of those points after halftime and also committed a game-high six turnovers. Alex Austin finished with 10 points off the bench. For Blanford (10.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), it was the 11th time in his last 13 games he reached double figures, while Austin has strung together five consecutive double-figure scoring efforts. Senior Malcolm Herron made his first start of the season and came through with a career-best 10 rebounds to go along with seven points.
Out of 345 teams ranked in NCAA Division I, NIU entered the weekend 340th in scoring offense (55.8 ppg) and 343rd in field goal percentage (.362). Abdel Nader is the team's only double-figure scorer on the season, averaging 13.2 points to go along with 5.4 rebounds. However, Nader is shooting just 33.5 percent from the floor and is attempting nearly 14 field goals per contest. The lack of scoring options was on full display late in last week's bout with Western Michigan, as the Broncos rallied to score the game's final 16 points and they won by eight. The Huskies connected on only 4-of-20 field goals over the final 20 minutes, which left the door open for WMU to climb back from a 10-point deficit. Aksel Bolin was the only player to reach double figures for the Huskies, as he finished with 10 points in 30 minutes of floor time.
EIU has been dreadful on the road, but NIU has been only marginally better at home. Expect the Panthers to squeeze out the victory in what should be a low- scoring affair.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eastern Illinois 49, Northern Illinois 45
02/23 10:40:32 ET