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Washington Suffers Season Opening Upset Loss to Northern Illinois

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The UW offense struggled while NIU couldn’t miss from deep which led to a 71-64 final

Utah v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

With a completely new look roster the Huskies hoped they could turn the corner in a make or break 5th year for Mike Hopkins. Instead Washington was plagued by many of the same issues that have doomed them in recent seasons. The Husky offense couldn’t make a shot while Northern Illinois couldn’t miss from deep as the Dawgs fell 71-64 to Northern Illinois as 18 point favorites. Nate Roberts (10 points, 19 rebounds) and Terrell Brown (22 points, 5 rebounds) tried to keep UW in the game but they got absolutely no help from their teammates who were a combined 8/45 from the floor.

Washington struggled on offense early in their exhibition against Central Washington and it was even worse in that regard against Northern Illinois. Fortunately NIU had their own troubles as neither team was able to make a basket for the first 2 and a half minutes of the game before eventually they hit a shot clock beating deep 3. Jamal Bey ended up with the first Washington points of the season as he hit a floater in the lane. Emmitt Matthews was able to answer another deep NIU 3-pointer with UW’s first made outside shot on a corner 3 to bring it to a 7-9 deficit.

The Huskies repeatedly tried to get the ball inside but Northern Illinois had 6 blocks in the first half and were aided by the refs letting them play early. A no call after a collision at the rim and scrum for the ball resulted in NIU getting out with numbers in transition and put them up 11-10 after UW had gained its first lead of the game. Jamal Bey got the lead back on the next possession but from there Washington went ice cold. It took 4 and a half minutes for the Dawgs to get their next points which came from a technical foul shot after NIU had a ridiculously athletic alley-oop and was then called for taunting. Bey and Matthews quickly after missed the front end of 1-and-1’s with UW in the bonus and so the next actual basket came from Brown to bring it to within 25-15 with 7:32 remaining.

Northern Illinois just wouldn’t stop coming though and they knocked down a few 3-pointers. A turnaround foul line jumper by their center prompted Hop to call a timeout with Washington down 33-16 and seemingly on the verge of getting run out of the building.

The Dawgs kept getting the ball inside as fouls mounted for Northern Illinois as they had 16 in the first half and Washington finally started making their free throws. Terrell Brown went to the free throw line with 6 seconds remaining in the half and a chance to close things to just 5 points which would’ve been a major win given the way the half unfolded.

Unfortunately he missed the back end and it gave Northern Illinois time for one more shot. PJ Fuller was set blocking Trendon Hankerson’s path but he launched a running heave from the logo and it banked it perfectly. Fuller was flattened on the follow-through but the refs made it a no call and instead Washington trailed 36-27 at the break.

After Nate Roberts missed an alley-oop dunk early in the 2nd half and NIU cashed in on the other end to extend the lead to 11 points it looked like things were once again slipping away for Washington. The Huskies went to their full-court press though and finally started to force live ball turnovers. A pair of them led to UW buckets which helped spark a 7-0 run that brought the Dawgs back close at 36-40.

The defense continued to get the occasional steal and Nate Roberts became a grown ass man on the boards to allow UW to continue to chip away. Seemingly every possession for a 5+ minute stretch ended with Roberts rebounding a Husky miss and getting fouled. He struggled to convert from the free throw line which isn’t surprising for the big man but his effort sparked Washington. Roberts made 3/4 free throws over 2 possessions to finally give UW its first lead since early in the game at 52-51. It was short lived.

Hankerson continued to kill Washington with his outside shooting and immediately knocked down a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead for NIU and they would never give it up again. It was the first of 3 deep makes on 3 consecutive possessions for NIU and Hankerson had the bookends. The latter put up Northern Illinois 62-54 with 3 minutes left and assured that a Washington comeback attempt would be futile. The Dawgs gave it a go and continued to fight to the last whistle but couldn’t make enough of their free throws to get it within true striking distance.

Ultimately the game came down to one of the most lopsided differentials from the 3-point line I’ve ever encountered. NIU finished the game shooting 52.2% from deep on 23 attempts while Washington finished at 12.5% on 18 tries. That meant NIU finished +27 from beyond the arc compared to UW. Fully half of NIU’s 3-point misses were airballs so when they missed, they missed bad but otherwise seemingly every deep attempt went in the basket. Trenton Hankerson finished with 28 points on 6/11 3-pt shooting to lead all scorers for NIU as UW left him open time and again in key moments.

In addition to the incredible woes from 3-pt range, Washington also shot themselves in the foot at the charity stripe as they finished 21/36 (58.3%) including multiple misses on the front end of 1-and-1’s. Even an average performance from UW from either 3-pt range or the free throw line or just from NIU’s 3-point shooting and Washington walks away a winner. Instead the Dawgs didn’t get it done in any of them and that’s how we see a 25 point shift from the betting line.

Just like last season when Washington was woefully inept in the first few games, it’s impossible for the Dawgs to shoot this poorly all season. But we’ve found the depths of how poorly you have to play on the offensive end to not beat a double-digit underdog when holding a 27-4 offensive rebounding advantage and 12-4 steal advantage.

Washington will try to pick up the pieces on Thursday night when playing Northern Arizona at 7:30p on Pac-12 Networks.