Sluggish starts persist as Huskies fall to UIC

Keshawn Williams and Anthony Crump set career highs in single-game scoring in Sunday’s road loss to the UIC Flames.

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Khavon Thomas | Northern Star

Sophomore guard Keshawn Williams drives against the Eastern Illinois defense during their game on Dec. 2. Williams scored a career-high 24 points.

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Reporter

DeKALB — Men’s basketball fell to the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames Sunday after a free throw in the game’s final seconds gave UIC the 61-60 victory in Chicago.

A foul drawn by UIC junior guard Marcus Larsson against NIU junior guard Kaleb Thornton gave the Flames a chance at two free throws with 10 seconds left to play. Larsson was successful on both free throw attempts to put UIC ahead 61-60. Senior guard Anthony Crump sought to make a jumper to put the Huskies back on top but was unsuccessful.

The Huskies attempted a semi-miracle in the game’s final seconds after sophomore guard Keshawn Williams was able to steal the ball from UIC graduate guard Jamie Ahale. NIU made an attempt at the basket but was unable to get the ball off before the buzzer.

“It was uncharacteristic of us to (foul),” head coach Rashon Burno said in a postgame interview with Huskie Sports Radio Network. “But that play didn’t lose us the game. The thing that stood out was our start.”

Slow starts continue

UIC opened scoring Sunday with a layup by freshman forward Filip Skobalj 26 seconds into the game. The Flames would extend themselves to a 7-0 lead before the Huskies put up their first points of the game with a three-pointer by junior guard Darweshi Hunter.

The Flames proceeded to go on a 9-0 scoring run to make it a 16-3 ball game just under five minutes into the first half.  UIC took its largest lead of the half in the sixth minute after Ahale nailed a three-point jumper, making the score 21-5.

The Huskies began to close in with 7:02 remaining in the first half after freshman guard Noah Kon made a jumper to bring the score to 26-18 in UIC’s favor. Both squads continuously exchanged scores for the remainder of the half until Williams closed the first half scoring with a layup and a jumper. UIC entered halftime with a 35-28 advantage over NIU.

UIC opened the second half with a jumper shot by junior guard Damaria Franklin 47 seconds into play. The Huskies and the Flames fired back and forth for the opening stages of the second half as UIC held a 45-36 lead by the end of the game’s 27th minute.

Closing the gap

The Huskies responded with a 16-9 run that lasted over seven minutes, ending with a jumper by Williams to tie the game 54-54 with 5:53 remaining. NIU took its first lead of the game exactly five minutes later after Crump made a layup to put the Huskies ahead 60-59.

Thornton’s foul with 10 seconds to play enabled Larsson to put the Flames ahead by a point after two successful free throws made the score 61-60.

Crump’s missed jumper shot and Williams’ last-second steal proved to be fruitless for NIU as the Huskies fell 61-60, dropping them to 3-7 overall and 2-5 on the road.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Burno said. “We’re going to have to live with this one as a program, but we’ll get better from it.”

The Huskies finished out the day with 45.3% shooting, making 24 of 53 attempts from the field. NIU was able to win the turnover battle, recording 12 turnovers compared to UIC’s 14, and recorded nine steals.

Williams led NIU with 25 points, surpassing his previous career-high 24 points scored against Eastern Illinois University on Dec. 1. The Chicago Heights native shot 11-21 from the field and recorded four assists.

Crump also set a career-high after scoring 16 points behind William’s 25, surpassing his previous career-high 12 points against Chicago State University Monday.

Coach Burno will now look to make changes in light of NIU’s struggles with slow starts dating back to their Dec. 4 matchup against Dayton University.

“What we’re doing isn’t working,” Burno said. “We’re going to do some things different. But I’m proud of the guys. They competed.”

NIU will return home Wednesday for its final out-of-conference matchup of the season as the Huskies host the Indiana State University Sycamores at the Convocation Center. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and will be available to watch on ESPN3.