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NIU Basketball Upsets Washington to Begin Rashon Burno Era

Northern Illinois won its first game under new head coach Rashon Burno thanks to lights-out shooting and strong defense.
NIU Basketball Washington

Photo: GoHuskiesMBB/Twitter

Northern Illinois men's basketball opened up its season on Tuesday night in Seattle against a Pac-12 opponent in the Washington Huskies. This contest marked the first regular-season game for new head coach Rashon Burno.

In a battle of the Huskies, NIU prevailed 71-64 behind 28 points and six three-pointers from senior guard Trendon Hankerson. For Hankerson, the 28 points were a career-high. But for NIU fans, that didn't come as a surprise as Hankerson ended the 2020-21 season on a tear.

New Year, New Result

After finishing last season 3-16, coupled with a new head coach and many new players filtering in, most didn't know what to expect from this year's squad. But in a statement game on the road against a Power 5 opponent in Coach Burno's first contest at the helm, his team answered the call behind lights-out shooting and great defense.

NIU took control of the game early, leading by as much as 16 in the first 20 minutes and holding a nine-point lead heading into the locker room. This was familiar territory for the Huskies as they led by 20 in the season opener last year only to let it slip and lose to UIC.

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But this year's team wrote a totally different story in the second half of opening night.

Washington continued to chip away at the lead thanks to a dominant rebounding performance. However, shooting was a major issue for Washington -- they missed 15 free throws, shot 16.7 % from the three-point line, and only 26.7 % overall from the field.

While Washington couldn't buy a bucket, NIU found late clutch three-pointers from Hankerson and Keshawn Williams as well as clutch free throws down the stretch from Anthony Crump and Noah Kon. This culminated in a strong team performance that signals an exciting season ahead for the NIU men's basketball team.

Coming into Tuesday's game, NIU was a 20-point underdog with just a 5.5% chance to win, according to ESPN. Having that chip on their shoulder proved to be an extremely effective motivator.

What's On Tap Next?

For Northern Illinois, it was the perfect way to start the season considering the Huskies face a handful of Power 5 opponents on the road in the coming weeks. NIU will only play road or neutral-site games until December 1. The immediate future doesn't get any easier as the Huskies travel to Bloomington, IN this Friday to take on AP First Team All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis and the Indiana Hoosiers at historic Assembly Hall.

During NIU's Winter Media Day, I had the opportunity to speak with Keshawn Williams and Trendon Hankerson about the 2021-22 basketball season. You can check out the interview in the embedded player below or wherever you listen to podcasts.