VALPARAISO, Ind. – Northern Illinois started two true freshmen and two sophomores in Tuesday morning's game at Valparaiso.
On the other end, the Crusaders had five senior starters, and the experience showed as Valparaiso ran away with an easy, early-morning 69-46 win.
Despite shooting just 19 percent from the field in the first half, the Huskies (0-2) trailed by only six at the break. NIU had a lot of trouble getting open shots against the Valpo (2-0) defense, and too often the Huskies took poor shot attempts. NIU was 19-for-65 from the field (29 percent) for the game.
Second-year Huskies head coach Mark Montgomery is faced with a challenge this season, having such a young team. Following the game, which started at 7 a.m. and was part of the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, Montgomery said some of the poor shooting is because of confidence with his young team.
Montgomery did say the first half didn't affect his team's defense, which held the Crusaders to 35 percent shooting at the break, and kept the Huskies in the game.
"In some situations you [need] some confidence. You'd like to see the first couple balls go in, help your confidence," Montgomery said. "But you know, we're a young team. So, what I liked about our club was, we didn't let our poor offense take away from good defense. We held them to [35 percent] shooting in the first half, problem was, we shot [19 percent]. So, we didn't let our offense affect our defense, we just wish some of those shots would go down early."
The Huskies' leading scorer was junior Aksel Bolin, who had 10 points and added nine rebounds. Freshman point guard Daveon Balls had nine points off the bench for NIU, after scoring 10 points in the Huskies' season-opening loss at Nebraska Omaha Friday.
NIU had trouble getting good looks inside against Valpo's post players.
"They double-teamed sometimes and sometimes they didn't," Bolin said. "So, it was hard for out bigs, I think, to understand what time to pass it out and what time to take their time and try to make a move and score."
NIU will have plenty of time to rest up and go back to its normal routine as the Huskies look to get their first win. NIU returns to the court Sunday when the Huskies take on NAIA Judson University in their home opener at the NIU Convocation Center. Tip-off is 3 p.m.
While Tuesday's start time was unconventional, to say the least, Montgomery would have no problem doing the same thing again.
"No question about it," he said. "Any time ESPN calls and you have the opportunity to get on TV, I think it's great for the players, it's great for the university, it helps you in recruiting. Unbelievable experience. You'd like to go a little later in the day, but 7 is fine I think."