After the debacle in Ypsilanti, Montgomery’s team was the butt of sportstalk jokes from around the country. Through it all, he kept his sense of humor. “We did hear a lot about it on campus, which is understandable,” he said. “All of a sudden, the whole country is talking about your basketball team but not for the reasons that you want.
“I told the student newspaper that my goal for Wednesday would be to get to five points before halftime because that would be an improvement.”
They actually got to nine in less than three minutes Wednesday against Kent State, beginning the game on a 9-0 run. All of a sudden, the boulder that had been sitting on everyone’s chest since the weekend was gone. “You know the old saying: Shooting is contagious — both ways,” Montgomery said. “Once we made a few shots in the game, we were able to start being the team I’ve believed we can be.”
The Huskies led most of the night and looked as if they were going to cruise to a win. But being capable of winning is one step, finishing off wins is another. Up nine in the final three minutes, they tightened and Kent State pulled even at 65 with less than 30 seconds to go. And so, after shooting effectively most of the night — 7 of 13 from three-point range — NIU needed to make one more shot in order to go home happy.
The ball swung to Nader, the team’s leading scorer. He went up to shoot with 2.2 seconds left and — just like in the movies — the shot swished. Four days after hitting bottom, NIU celebrated.
“I heard a lot after the game at Eastern Michigan that people thought I might have lost the team because the numbers were so brutal,” Montgomery said. “Those kids proved who they are, not only with the way we played the game, but with the way we prepared for the game.
“Given what happened, it was a very special night.”
Montgomery knows there is still a long way to go, as the Huskies are just 5-15 after Saturday’s 69-64 loss to Toledo. But four days after the miserable bus ride home at the end of a nightmarish afternoon, he could walk out into a cold winter night with a smile on his face.
For more by John Feinstein, visit www.washingtonpost.com/feinstein