Huskies lose home opener to Northern Illinois, 71-64

Nate Roberts (Photo: Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

Despite 22 points from Terrell Brown Jr. and a double-double of Nate Roberts, the Washington Huskies were unable to overcome bad shots to lose to Northern Illinois in the 2021-22 season opener for both teams.

The home huskies shot just 26.7 percent of the field and were 3-18 of three, including one of Jamal Bey | with 11 seconds left when the game was already out of sight. They also shot 58 percent from the free throw line (21-36).

Bey was the other hometown Husky to score in double digits with 10.

Trendon Hankerson was the highest scorer in the game, netting 28 for the away Huskies, including 9-15 from a three-point range. Anthony Crump was the only other NIU scorer in double figures with 11.

The new Huskies, with eight newcomers and two new assistant coaches added to this year’s roster, looked a lot like last year’s 5-21 team. They scraped and clawed, but they had no outside answers and had a team come to their house and dictate the game with their high-pressure style.

And this was also a new NIU team, which finished 3-16 last season. This was the head coaching debut for the former Arizona state assistant coach Rashon Burno. Burno certainly used the lessons he learned from his time in Tempe as he has coached against this version of the Huskies a handful of times over the past two seasons. Still, the Dawgs 18-point underdogs were on their way to this game.

Last year’s NIU squad shot 32.4 percent out of three; tonight they went 12-23, good enough for 52 percent. Last year’s team shot just under 40 percent of the field. Tonight they were 21-48, good enough for 44 percent.

Before Roberts made a mistake with 4:12 left in the game, Roberts scored 10 points and scored 19 rebounds – six more than his previous record. But he, along with Brown and Bey, combined 11 of 24 from the free-throw line, and that was the difference in the game.

Down 9 at halftime, hometown Dawgs used a quick 7-0 run right after the first media timeout to get back into the game. The game stalled for a few minutes until Roberts really started to push himself. While not taking advantage of the free throw line, the junior striker kept pushing and eventually narrowed NIU’s lead to 1 with 10 minutes left on a putback.

Every time Washington made a run, NIU was more than happy to drown out the home city team’s hopes with a three-point shot. But three straight Roberts free throws gave Washington a hard-earned 52-51 lead with 5:26 to play. But Hankerson, who buried a deep contentious three with no time left in the first half, kept firing. He was 3-3 off the three-point range in the final 7:48 of the game, and once Roberts got the hometown Huskies ahead, it was Hankerson who took the lead back for NIU. And back-to-back triples from Keshawn Williams and Hankerson took all the air out of Washington’s balloon, pushing the NIU lead to 62-54 with 2:48 to play in the game.

And when Washington was forced into a foul to try and stay within reach, NIU made their foul shots. They were 7-10 the last 2:20 of the game to salt away the win.

The game started just as messy, as it took over two and a half minutes for the Huskies to score. They often tried to get aggressive and get to the basket, but without a real plan, NIU would close the lanes and make those shots look more like prayers. Add to that some very spotty shots, and the absent Dawgs took a 16-point lead at 4:29 to play into halftime on an extended 21-5 run. They used their energy, quick and aggressive defense to allow Washington many one-time possessions. They also protected their rim well with 6 blocks in the first half. And the Huskies couldn’t capitalize on some NIU error issues – the hometown Huskies were in the bonus with over 9 minutes left in the half, but only shot 9-15 from the line in the first half.

Washington switched their man and zone defenses, but that didn’t seem to help much during the first 20 minutes of the game. And hometown Dawgs couldn’t stand out in their press after a makeover because NIU was almost halfway down the field by the time the ball came in. And NIU also tried to catch and squeeze, but neither team was able to force much turnover.

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