NIU handles St. Francis exhibition


Khavon Thomas

Junior guard Kaleb Thornton goes for a layup against St. Francis on Oct. 30. Thornton led the Huskies with 15 points. (Khavon Thomas | Northern Star)

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Reporter

DeKALB — The men’s basketball team notched an 80-57 victory in an exhibition game against the University of St. Francis Fighting Saints Saturday in DeKalb.

“It feels good,” head coach Rashon Burno said. “More so for the guys. (I’m) happy for them more than getting my first win.”

The first points of the game came from senior center Adong Makuoi from NIU, who made a two-pointer just over a minute into the game. After Makuoi’s opening score, Huskies proceeded to take a 13-5 lead in the seventh minute of the first half. St. Francis responded with eight consecutive points to tie the score at 13 before NIU engaged in a brief shootout affair.

A three-pointer from senior guard Trendon Hankerson with 6:27 remaining in the first half allowed the Huskies to end their scoring exchange with St. Francis, who took the lead at 20-19. From there, the Huskies were able to increase their lead to 26-20, but the Fighting Saints battled back to even the score at 29 each with 1:50 left in the first half.

A dunk from senior forward Chinedu Kingsley Okanu with 52 seconds left allowed the Huskies to enter halftime with a 31-30 lead.

Sophomore guard Keshawn Williams guards a St. Francis player in NIU’s pre-season exhibition on Oct. 30 at the Convocation Center. Williams, a transfer from Tulsa, had 14 points. (Khavon Thomas | Northern Star)

“(St. Francis) tested us in our communication,” junior guard Kaleb Thornton said. “If you’re not talking, you’re not winning. We didn’t do a good job of that in the first half. Once we came back in the second half, we got it together.”

NIU opened the scoring in the second half with a successful free throw by Makuoi 40 seconds in, followed by four more scoring plays to put NIU ahead 38-30 with 16:30 left to play. The Huskies would have the advantage for the remainder of the game, recording a total of 49 points in the second half.

Leading up to Saturday’s game, Burno emphasized that the team would play with aggression on both sides of the ball. Due to early fouls by the Huskies, the ability to be aggressive was reduced.

“A team like that, you should probably be getting 30 plus (turnovers),” Burno said. “With fouls, I couldn’t be super aggressive because each foul was two points. If you pick up early fouls, it takes some of your aggression out of the way because now, it negates the defense by fouling.”

St. Francis turned the ball over 22 times, but fouls by NIU allowed them to have 27 three-throw attempts. The Fighting Saints were able to make 20 of those shots. 

The Huskie’s efforts were led by Thornton with 15 points. In his second year as a Huskie, Thornton made six of eight field goal attempts while also hitting three of four free throws.

Sophomore guard Keshawn Williams was right behind Thornton with 14 points of his own. A newcomer from the University of Tulsa, Williams netted four of nine field goals, a three-pointer and five made free throws.

“(The guards) are no different than a quarterback on a Sunday,” Burno said. “(They) gotta orchestrate the offense. These guys did a phenomenal job in the second half.”

As they prepare for their first bout of the regular season, NIU will look to go in as a cohesive unit against a Pac-12 opponent in the University of Washington Huskies.

“We need to just realize that we’re better as one, versus as individuals,” Thornton said. “If we do that, I think we can go in there and beat anybody.”

NIU’s road matchup against Washington will be their first contest of the regular season. The game will begin at 9 p.m. CT Nov. 9 at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, Wash.