NIU drops exhibition opener

By Chris Jurmann

The first men’s basketball game at the Convocation Center wasn’t a game for the memory books, as NIU coach Rob Judson left the game with mixed feelings after the Huskies fell to Team Nike 93-84 in an exhibition contest.

“I like the way our offense ran,” Judson said. “We need to go to work on our free throws and we have a whole lot of work to do defensively.”

Senior Jay Bates led the Huskies in scoring, finishing the game with 18 points on 9-of-16 shooting. All nine of Bates’ field goals came inside of three feet with eight of those shots layups.

In front of 2,029 fans, Team Nike brought together a number of former college players, most notably Charlie Wills, formerly of the University of Wisconsin.

Wills led Team Nike in rebounds and finished with 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting including one 3-pointer before fouling out.

Kenny Williams, a former University of Illinois-Chicago point guard, led the team in scoring with 21 points on 5-11 shooting with 10-12 free throws and five assists.

“They are a hard team to play,” Judson said. “They play as if there’s really five perimeter players, a lot of one-on-one players.”

The Huskies got off to a slow start, falling behind 12-1 early and struggled to get back in the game throughout the first half.

NIU didn’t score its first Convo Center basket for over 4:30 until Jamel Staten finished off a fast break with a tip-in. Staten had a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds and also contributed four assists.

The Huskies spent much of the first half struggling to put themselves back in the game, but managed to pull within two as Marcus Smallwood put in a tip in basket at the buzzer off of an inbounds pass from Perry Smith.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to just come down with it and shoot it,” Smallwood said. “So I figured if I could just get somewhere by the rim, I could just direct the pass in.”

Smallwood completed his night by contributing 12 points and 13 rebounds on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and 2-of-7 shooting from the free-throw line.

The Huskies were able to knot the score up four times early in the second half, but the closest NIU would get down the stretch was three as they pulled within 75-72 with 4:49 left to play in the game. After that, Team Nike pulled away with a 9-3 run.

NIU managed to earn 60 of its 84 points in the paint while holding Team Nike to 34.

“We like to play inside-out.” Judson said. “Our post men scored in there pretty well but Jay (Bates) also penetrated to the lane very well.”

While the team did enjoy the home-court advantage, they expect more of an edge when the regular season starts against DePaul on Nov. 23.

“We appreciate all the fans we got, but we can envision in two weeks from now when we’re at an almost sold out or sold out DePaul game, so that will be a big motivational factor,” Smallwood said. “We’ve taken a lot of shots and every day we go into practice we get a lot more accustomed to it, so when the first home game comes it can be a complete home-court advantage for us.”