Scoring success pushes Huskies past Pride

NIU claims first win at home court


Mingda Wu

NIU sophomore guard Zarique Nutter attempts a layup at the beginning of the second half in NIU’s non-conference matchup with Purdue University Northwest on Monday. Nutter’s layup attempt was successful, giving NIU its first score of the second half on its way to a 99-73 victory. (Mingda Wu | Northern Star)

By Ethan Gonzales and Skyler Kisellus

DeKALB – NIU men’s basketball entered the win column for the first time this season after pulling out a 99-73 victory in its first ever meeting with the Purdue University Northwest Pride on Monday evening.

Fresh off a pair of losses to in-state opponents, NIU spoiled the Pride’s 2-0 record with a scoring performance just short of triple digits. The Huskies combined for 40-of-66 shooting from the field and went 12-for-16 from the free-throw line.

“Tonight, the guys really went out and showed who they were as a program, who they were as a team,” NIU head men’s basketball coach Rashon Burno said. “We knew that we’ll have a breakthrough, it was just a matter of when.”

A promising weapon for NIU

Sophomore guard Zarique Nutter led the way with a game-high 20 points. Nutter, who transferred in from Clarendon College over the offseason, sunk eight of his 14 shots from the field. He also logged seven rebounds and three steals, matching redshirt senior guard Anthony Crump for the team led in both categories.

Burno said Nutter’s talents can draw attention from opponents and create more opportunities for players like junior guard Keshawn Williams and sophomore guard David Coit.

“We didn’t have a guy like him (Nutter) last year where you can play off of,” Burno said. “He can really contribute on both sides of the ball. If he stays healthy and continues to get better, improves some of his decisions, he’s going to be one of our better players and one of the better players in the MAC.”

The good and the bad

The Huskie defense was tasked with containing a Purdue Northwest unit that boasted four players with double digit scoring averages entering the week. NIU had relative success, holding three of said players below double digits on Monday. NIU also recorded nine steals in the game.

Both teams finished even in the turnover battle as the Huskies and Pride each coughed the ball up 20 times.

Burno pointed to NIU’s ball security as an area of concern, noting that similar struggles could lead to another outcome.

“On a different night, it can spell different results,” Burno said. “We didn’t value the ball that way we needed to.”

Huskies take the lead, run with it

PNW got on the scoreboard first after a speedy takeaway led to a three-pointer by graduate forward Alou Dillon. The Pride’s early lead, its only lead of the entire game, lasted for roughly three minutes before NIU fired off with a nine-point scoring streak. Up 16-7 after about nine minutes, the Huskies saw Purdue Northwest put together a run that brought the deficit to one point, 21-20.

A pair of layups by Williams nixed PNW’s brief momentum and extended NIU’s advantage to 25-21. The Huskies ballooned their lead to 11 to close out the first half. Nutter continued to show off his offensive repertoire, finishing the first half with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists. 

A mixture of three-point plays, standard layups and three-pointers enabled the Huskies to leave PNW in the dust as NIU stood on top 58-36 at the first media timeout of the second half. NIU commanded the game from that point on, gradually adding to its advantage.

NIU’s big lead in the second half created an opportunity for three freshmen to earn more playing time. Guards Taku Youngblood, Armandas “AP” Plintauskas and forward Xavier Amos put together 19 points off the bench. Each player had at least six minutes on the court.

“It means a lot to those guys because they practice and practice and practice, and you want to see some reward at the end of the day,” Burno said. “They (the starters) were happy for those guys because they’re valuable members of our program.”

The freshmen took over the scoring in the final 3:05. A Youngblood layup awarded NIU with the biggest lead of the night, up 31 points and leading 94-63. Plintauskas notched his final score of the night with a dunk in the paint. Youngblood put a bow on NIU’s performance by sinking in a shot from three-point land with 34 seconds left.

A pair of Pride layups wrapped up the night as the buzzer blared with the scoreboard showing 99-73 in NIU’s favor.

Monday’s outcome put NIU at a 1-2 record in the non-conference slate and left Purdue Northwest with its first loss of the season.

A month without home

NIU will now look ahead to an eight-game road stretch that will include a bout with the No. 2 ranked Gonzaga University. The Huskies will return home on Dec. 20 to host the University at Albany Great Danes at the Convocation Center.

Burno said he plans to embrace the road setting and prepare on a game-by-game basis.

“I love road trips, I love being on the road,” Burno said. “You can control the environment. You’re in hotels, you’re around each other…on the road, we can lock in and really focus on the task and all we do, like we’ve done last year, is take it one game at a time.”

The first game of NIU’s road gauntlet will be a battle with a Power 5 opponent, the Georgia Institute of Technology. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in Atlanta.