It was Huskies against Huskies.
A pair of college basketball teams coming off forgettable seasons.
A canine carnival.
Guess who's still in the doghouse?
On Tuesday night, in a cold-shooting outing not uncommon for Alaska Airlines Arena at this time of the year, Northern Illinois proved a lot more aggressive and accurate in the season opener for both teams, built a 16-point lead and hung on to beat Washington 71-64.
It was a decided setback for Mike Hopkins' massive rebuild, which has seen him add seven new players in a concentrated effort to make last season's 5-21 record a distant memory.
However, he didn't bring in enough shooters as his guys suffered through a horrendous 26.7-percent night, including 16.7 from 3-point range, shades of last season.
This new breed of Seattle Huskies got shoved around pretty good, too, with Northern Illinois deciding it was going to play it rough. Langston Wilson, the UW's junior college-transfer from Georgia, twice hit the floor hard, landing on his back and his head.
The Mid-American Conference club, trying to forget a miserable 3-16 campaign itself, played like it owned the place, which welcomed back UW fans for a regular-season game for the first time in more than 600 days because of COVID-19. It had seven different players block 14 Husky shots.
If not for Nate Roberts, a Hopkins holdover, things would have really gotten ugly. He helped push back. The 6-foot-11 junior big man snatched a career-best 19 rebounds, 12 on the offensive glass, before fouling out down the stretch. The UW held a 51-37 edge on the boards.
Roberts' hustle enabled the Huskies to rally from a 33-17 deficit in the opening half to take the lead if ever so briefly, at 52-51 with 5:26 left to play. The active big man, who scored 10 points, even hit the go-ahead free throw here.
However, Northern Illinois turned to Trendon Hankerson to leave town a winner. The 6-foot-2 senior guard from Novi, Michigan, put his team back in front for good, at 54-52, with a confident 3-pointer on his way to a 28-point night. He had NBA range, sinking 6 of 11 well behind the line, while his team collectively shot 52 percent on its treys.
Arizona transfer Terrell Brown topped the Huskies with 22 points, most coming on lane penetrations.
The Hopkins Huskies have 48 hours to find someone who can shoot before they face Northern Arizona at home. They hit just 3 of 18 3-pointers. They weren't very good from 15 feet either, downing just 21 of 36 free throws.
It could be another long season.
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