Huskies top Rockford in season opener

By James Krause

The men’s basketball team opened its season with a dominant 93-54 win Tuesday over the Rockford Regents in the Battle for the 16th District.

The Huskies took the lead early in the first half and never surrendered, shooting 61.7 percent from the field while holding Rockford to 35 percent shooting.

Coach Mark Montgomery said while there were issues to be fixed, he was glad to pick up the win.

“We did some things well, and we did some things we can work on,” Montgomery said. “I thought our guys came out and played hard and did enough to take care of business.”

With a lack of depth at guard following the Oct. 29 suspension of junior Eugene German and senior Dante Thorpe, scorers off the bench helped the Huskies make up the difference. Senior forward Lacey James finished with a team-leading 17 points, while junior forward Noah McCarty finished with 14.

Montgomery said James and McCarty may be getting more opportunities in the future.

“I think with James and McCarty, they’re like our sixth and seventh starters,” Montgomery said. “With their experience, they’ve been in college three or four years. They’re stronger; they move the ball; they play with confidence; I think that’s going to be a strength of ours all season.”

The new season means the return of senior forward Jaylen Key, who missed his entire junior season with back and shoulder injuries. Key finished Tuesday’s game with 15 points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes.

Key said he can focus on the season ahead now that his comeback game is in the books.

“I’m actually kind of glad this first game is out of the way because there was just a lot of build up and excitement,” Key said. “Now I can just get back to my game and playing for the team. I can have the focus be less on coming back and more on the team.”

The Huskies took an early lead in the first half and held it despite hitting a shooting snag. The team missed seven straight shots, going nearly five minutes in the first half without a field goal. James ended the spell with a layup with 7:17 remaining in the first frame.

Despite the dry shooting stretch and 13 turnovers, NIU finished the first half shooting 60 percent from the field, holding a 41-25 lead at halftime.

The Huskies came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, furthering the gap between them and the Regents thanks in part to several forced turnovers. First-year wing Austin Richie had 10 points and a team-leading three steals in his NIU debut.

Montgomery said the team got a chance to settle down and take control after an emotionally driven first half.

“I think we settled down at halftime,” Montgomery said. “We were just playing a little hurried in the first half. They were excited to get out there.”

NIU will host their second game of the season at 6 p.m. Friday at the Convocation Center when they face the Northern Kentucky Norse of the Horizon League.