DeKALB – The game is called "Beat Bubba."
And, for Northern Illinois (5-8, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) it has become a major part of practice over the past month.
What is "Beat Bubba?" It is a free throw drill the Huskies employed at practice about a month ago to try and simulate some of the game pressures NIU players feel at the line, including today's 7 p.m. game against Western Michigan (9-5, 1-0 MAC) at the Convocation Center.
The game goes as follows:
"Bubba" is a fictional opponent who starts the drill with a four-point lead. An NIU player must step to the line to shoot a one-and-one. For each free throw the Huskies make, that's a point for NIU. For each one they miss, though, it's two for Bubba.
"It's just a free throw exercise we do to try and put as much pressure on a free throw as you possibly can in practice," NIU coach Ricardo Patton said. "That's the biggest challenge, for any coach, is to try to simulate game-like pressure in practicing free throws."
At the end, if Bubba wins, the Huskies must run.
"At the end of the day, you can't recreate a game atmosphere in practice. So the only real threat you have, that adds pressure to the free throw, is the threat of running," Patton said. "It causes guys to focus in when they know there's a penalty to not making free throws."
So far, the results have been mixed.
Over the past five games, NIU has shot 71 percent from the free-throw line. However, that includes Xavier Silas making 41 of 46 freebies over that stretch. Take Silas out, and the rest of the team is 35 of 61, or 57.3 percent. That's better than where the Huskies have been in the past year, but still nowhere near where they want to be.
It's why "Beat Bubba" came to life and why earlier in the season Silas called for extra free throw shooting practices with his teammates.
Saturday's conference-opening victory at Ball State was a perfect example. Silas went 15 of 15 from the line, but the rest of the Huskies went 3 of 9, with guard Mike DiNunno making all three of those free throws.
"Part of being a good free throw shooting team is the right people getting to the free throw line," Patton said. "The other night, in the game, ... if you just took Silas out of the equation, that's 3 for 9. It still would have been a poor free throw shooting night.
"Typically what makes you a good free throw shooting team is you've got guys that can shoot the ball."
• To watch NIU guard Mike DiNunno's comments on "Beat Bubba" and tonight's Western Michigan game, head to HuskieWire.com for the latest edition of "On the Wire."