Huskies top McKendree in exhibition battle

Junior+guard+Kaleb+Thornton+%28left%29+makes+a+drive+down+the+court+against+the+Bowling+Green+Falcons+in+a+92-83+loss+on+Jan.+18+at+the+Convocation+Center+in+DeKalb.+NIU+proceeded+to+lose+its+second+matchup+with+BGSU+Saturday%2C+falling+on+the+road+87-65+in+Bowling+Green.+%28Zulfiqar+Ahmed+%7C+Northern+Star%29

Zulfiqar Ahmed

Junior guard Kaleb Thornton (left) makes a drive down the court against the Bowling Green Falcons in a 92-83 loss on Jan. 18 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb. NIU proceeded to lose its second matchup with BGSU Saturday, falling on the road 87-65 in Bowling Green. (Zulfiqar Ahmed | Northern Star)

By Ethan Gonzales, Assistant Sports Editor

DeKALB – Junior guard Keshawn Williams and sophomore guard Zarique Nutter led the NIU men’s basketball team to a 79-76 victory over McKendree University in their first exhibition game of the season.

Both the Huskies and the Bearcats got out to slow starts, combining for only 16 points through the first five minutes at a score of 8-8. Sophomore guard Zarique Nutter and redshirt senior Anthony Crump led the way for NIU with four points each to start the game.

Freshman guard Armandas Plintauskas was fouled as he made a three point shot, but could not convert the four-point play. The three pointer gave the Huskies a 16-12.

The Bearcats kept the game close during the first half. Junior forward Milos Vicentic recorded 11 points and four rebounds to keep McKendree within single digits.

Nutter scored 12 points for NIU while Crump tallied eight points and five rebounds. Both Huskies scored the majority of their points in the paint to give NIU a 39-30 lead at the half.

“We kept our composure on both ends, didn’t rush ourselves,” Nutter said. “We trusted coach Burno’s process and stuck with it.”

McKendree began to close the gap four minutes into the second half. The Bearcats’ run began with two easy baskets in the paint and was capped off by a three pointer by senior guard Eric Powell II. The Huskie lead was cut down to 50-46 at the 15-minute mark.

The Bearcats continued their scoring run after a timeout, outscoring the Huskies 14-0 over three minutes. McKendree took the lead, 55-50.

Junior guard Keshawn Williams took over the scoring load for NIU, scoring 19 of his 23 points in the second half. Williams single handedly brought the Huskies back into the game and gave them a one-point lead.

“First half, we came out kind of slow,” Williams said. “In the second half, I had to regroup and come out with a better mindset.”

Sophomore guard David Coit caught fire at the 5:25 mark, making two straight threes to balloon NIU’s lead to 7.

After a late push from the Bearcats to cut the lead down to three, Huskie freshman forward Xavier Amos drained a long three pointer with 1:08 left to play. NIU sealed the game after two free throws from Coit, ending the game in a 79-76 victory.

Williams finished with 23 points, five rebounds and three assists while Nutter tallied 19 points and four rebounds.

“Those guys were highly efficient,” head coach Rashon Burno said. “I’m not surprised because I’ve watched these guys daily, so they’re going to be a large part of our offense moving forward.”

The Huskies will face the University of Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars for their next game at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the NIU Convocation Center.