DeKALB – The Huskies clawed their way back into the game, but couldn’t finish the comeback in their season opener, falling to the University of Northern Iowa 64-54.
The Huskies trailed by 20 points with 16:43 in the game when they started a charge.
“We came to the huddle and we just said ‘we need to lock in our defense’ and walk them down four minutes at a time,” Huskies guard Trendon Hankerson said.
The Huskies went on a 9-0 run started by a Rod Henry-Hayes fast break.
Zaire Mateen then provided a spark off the bench, scoring two straight baskets, one off a steal that he took all the way to rim. Hankerson capped the run with a three-point field goal to cut the Panther lead to 48-37.
After trading baskets, the Huskies again put together a run to make it a two-possession game with 6:53 left in the game. Eugene German sliced through the lane to score two straight baskets and cut the deficit to nine points.
“We made some shots that I was surprised that we made and we missed a lot of shots that I was surprised, too,” German said. “I feel like we’re going to be alright. We just need to get to our spots.”
German led the Huskies with 21 points.
Nathan Scott slammed home a dunk and Hankerson put in a layup to trim Panthers’ the lead to 52-47.
“It was a hard fought game,” Huskies coach Mike Montgomery said. “Definitely not the result we wanted, but I thought the team definitely showed some character. When you get down 20 (points) and then four or five minutes left to go it’s a five-point game. We had our chance, we just ran out of gas.”
That was as close as the Huskies (0-1) got, as the Panthers found their shooting stroke from the first half.
Isaiah Brown drained two three-pointers to push the Panthers back up by 11 with 3:04 left in the game.
“Isaiah was able to get his feet underneath him and get some good looks,” Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said. “He’s had a couple of practices where he’s shot it like this when we’ve been scrimmaging. It’s fun to see.”
Brown led the Panthers with 17 points, going 5-6 from deep.
The Panthers (2-0) dominated the Huskies from start to finish outside to the two big Huskie runs.
The Huskies couldn’t get the ball in the basket on offense or stop the Panthers on defense in the first half.
By the numbers: German hit the first basket of the game. It was the only time the Huskies led in the entire game. The Huskies shot 30% from two-point range and 35% from beyond the arc in the first half. Conversely, the Panthers to converted on 50% of their two-point attempts and 42 of their threes. The Huskies trailed at the half by 16 points.
Beyond the stats: The Huskies were playing with a short bench due to injuries and not a lot of players with experience
They said it: “We played five other guys that haven’t been on the floor with our five (regular) guys,” Montgomery said. “They got their feet wet, which helps. The more get your feet wet, the better you feel and you know what it feels like.”
Up next: NIU travels to Iowa State on Tuesday at 7pm. UNI hosts Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday at 7pm.