NIU Falls to Maine in Opener, 77-64

KENNESAW, Ga. -- Freshman guard Mike DiNunno scored 23 points in his college basketball debut, but it wasn't enough to give the Northern Illinois men's basketball team (0-1) a victory in its season opener, as the Huskies dropped a 77-64 decision at the hands of Maine (1-0) in the first-round of the 100 Club Classic at the KSU Convocation Center Friday evening.

It was a battle of talented freshmen, as Maine newcomer Gerald McLemore led all scorers with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting, outscoring DiNunno by just one point. Mark Socoby (16 points) and Junior Bernal (12) both also recorded double-figure scoring outputs for the Black Bears.

NIU sophomore Sean Kowal chipped in 12 points in his Huskie debut, despite battling a right ankle injury. Darion "Jake" Anderson scored nine points, but was limited to just one point in the second half.

Maine shot 52.2 percent (24-of-46) in the game, including a 62.5 percent effort in the second half. The Huskies enjoyed statistical advantages in rebounds (33-32) and assists (15-14), and both teams committed 19 turnovers. The Black Bears converted nine more free throws (22-of-27) than the Huskies (13-of-21).

"Maine was very disciplined on offense, and their zone defense really bothered us tonight," said head coach Ricardo Patton. "You have to make shots against a zone, and we struggled at times doing that.

"Mike DiNunno had a great game for us. He has a great confidence about him. He believes he can play at this level, and believes he can be a leader for this team. Mike will continue to grow, and is going to be one of the cornerstones of this program for the next few years."

The Huskies fell behind 8-2 in the early going, forcing Patton to burn an early timeout (14:25). NIU responded with a 9-0 spurt, and took a 9-8 lead after Anderson's second field goal. Both teams traded baskets for the ensuing three and a half minutes, before the Black Bears strung together a 12-5 run to claim their largest lead 27-20, with 53 seconds remaining in the first half.

Anderson drove the length of the floor as time expired, and his third field goal pulled the Huskies within five at the intermission, 27-22. Maine shot nearly 41 percent (.409) on its nine field goals, while NIU countered with a 32.1 percent first-half shooting mark.

Socoby and Anderson scored eight points, respectively, to lead their teams in the opening frame.

The Huskies fell behind by as many as eight points early in the second half, but answered with a 10-5 spree to cut Maine's lead to 39-36 with 15:15 remaining. But the Black Bears scored eight of the game's ensuing nine points, and claimed a 47-37 lead after a transition layup by Svetoslav Chetinov (11:02).

NIU mounted a late run to pull within six (62-56) with 4:33 remaining, but Maine countered with a 7-0 run, capped off by a three-pointer by McLemore, to push the margin to double-digits, 69-56. The Huskies could draw no closer that 12 points for the remainder of the game.

The Huskies will play the loser of Friday night's Kennesaw State-Western Illinois game (in progress) Saturday at 4 p.m.

Box Score

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