Huskies drops fourth straight to Little Rock

NIU falls out of Jacksonville Classic despite late push in 67-60 loss to Trojans

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Khavon Thomas | Northern Star

Junior guard Kaleb Thornton goes for a layup against St. Francis on Oct. 30. Thornton led the Huskies with 15 points.

Skyler Kisellus, Assistant Sports Editor

DeKALB — Men’s basketball suffered its fourth consecutive loss of the season, dropping the third game of the Jacksonville Classic against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans 67-60 Monday in Jacksonville, Florida.

A late scoring run by the Huskies was thwarted as strategic late-game fouling by senior forward Zool Kueth and junior guard Kaleb Thornton allowed Little Rock to make eight free-throw attempts. Little Rock’s early scoring runs and its 10 consecutive free-throws to close out the game allowed the Trojans to claim the victory.

“We have to stop their runs by scoring,” men’s basketball head coach Rashon Burno said. “We have to watch film and try to get better at doing that.”

Monday’s game opened with an exchange of fouls and turnovers before the Trojans struck first when junior forward DeAntoni Gordon made a layup to put Little Rock ahead 2-0 near the end of the first minute. Little Rock would extend themselves to an early 5-0 lead before Huskie senior forward made a free throw to put NIU on the board.

NIU was unable to rival Little Rock’s scoring efficiency for the opening 20 minutes of play as the Trojans averaged 1.7 points per minute, while the Huskies only posted an average of 0.6 points per minute.

The Huskies faced more of the same shooting issues from their past two matchups against the University of Missouri and Boston University, entering halftime trailing Little Rock 34-18. NIU shot 6-of-26 from the field in the opening half.

Thornton led the NIU’s first half efforts with eight points, making three-of-four field goals and both of his three-point attempts. Junior guards Darweshi Hunter and Edward Manuel were the next-highest scorers for the Huskies in the first half with three points each.

The second half saw a change of pace as NIU opened scoring with a dunk from Hunter early. An exchange of scores between the two squads took place shortly thereafter to make the score 36-23. Little Rock proceeded to go on a 12-point scoring run in four minutes to extend their advantage to 48-23 at the 14:09 mark.

The Huskies immediately responded as they began a scoring run of their own. In just under 11 minutes, NIU posted 26 points and held Little Rock to nine points. With 3:47 left to play, NIU had managed to reduce their deficit to eight points, down 57-49.

NIU continued to push closer with two three-point jumpers by Kueth and four made free-throws before fouls in the final three minutes all but sealed the Huskies’ fate. A pair of fouls called on Kueth and Thornton gave Little Rock eight of its 10 straight successful free-throws to finish the game.

“The late-game fouling was because we were trying to get steals to get the ball back,” Burno said. “There was a lot of strategy with that. But anytime you’re playing, you gotta go out without fouling, so we have to do a better job of that.”

Sunday’s 67-60 loss dropped NIU to 1-4 on the season, while Little Rock elevated themselves to 3-2, having earned their first win since Nov. 14.

NIU had three players post double-digit scoring for the game. Thornton remained the game leader in scoring for the Huskies with a 15-point outing. Thornton was trailed by Kueth and senior guard Trendon Hankerson posting 12 and 10 points respectively. 

“It’s good to have three guys in doubles but we’d like to have more,” Burno said. “Those guys played well, and I’m happy for them, but we gotta get better as a team.” 

With the Jacksonville Classic now in the books, NIU will have time to recover after playing three games in a five-day span and work on issues that have afflicted them in said period of time.

“(We have to work on) offense,” Burno said. “We’ve had some ups and some downs. We’ve played some stiff competition. It’s a challenge. We just gotta be better on the offensive end of the floor.”

The Huskies will head north to Milwaukee for the final game of their six-game road series Saturday. They will face a 5-1 Marquette University team fresh off their first loss of the season against the 22nd-ranked St. Bonaventure University. The game is set to begin at 7 p.m. at Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee.