DeKALB – For Dante Thorpe, his transition from junior college to Division I basketball with Northern Illinois has been pretty much seamless.
He proved that again Thursday night, scoring a career-high 21 points to help the Huskies defeat Illinois-Chicago, 69-63, at NIU’s Convocation Center.
Thrope, a junior from Washington D.C., sinked 7 of 11 attempts from the field, dished out three assists and hauled in a career-best seven rebounds. His production was much needed for the Huskies (7-5) with fellow guard Eugene German failing to score a single point in the first half.
“It felt like it was just me and the ball … No one could guard me,” said Thorpe, a transfer from Triton College. “When Eugene couldn’t get it going, our guys had to step up. I feel like me and Levi (Bradley) took that role and stepped up.”
Bradley chipped in a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while German scored all of his 13 points in the second half. The pair combined to shoot 10 of 29 from the field.
"It was kind of a sense of urgency, not necessarily to force shots, but just be more assertive," Bradley said. "We still look for our teammates and at the end of the day, we just want to make the right play to help us win the game."
Both teams struggled to score in the first half. The Huskies entered halftime with a slight 33-29 advantage over the Flames.
When UIC (4-8) switched from a zone to a man defense in the second half, the Huskies took advantage, NIU coach Mark Montgomery said.
“Their zone slowed us up,” Montgomery said. “I thought at first in the first half, we weren’t patient enough – we were taking the first shot given. Second half, we had a little better rhythm. It’s definitely something we can practice a little bit more on.”
Domonique Matthews and Marcus Ottey led UIC with 17 points each.
But the Flames couldn’t stop Thorpe, who scored 16 of his career-best 23 points in the second half.
“Once they went man, I just took advantage of that,” he said.
Montgomery said Thorpe, a First Team All-American JUCO guard at Triton, has come to the Huskies just as advertised.
“He has a calm presence and maturity about his game,” Montgomery said of Thorpe. “He’s a willing defender. … A tough matchup because he can get into those gaps and he gets to the paint and he has a floating runner game that’s tough to guard. He’s definitely the most experienced and most talented (transfer).”
Thorpe entered Thursday’s game as NIU’s third best scorer averaging 11.4 points per game. He said there are still parts of his game he hopes to improve, specifically rebounding.
“The speed of the game now is way faster than in junior college,” he said. “I want to get better at rebounding and crashing the glass. Coach always tells me how I need to go in there and grab it with two hands. He’s always on us.”
Each game this season, Montgomery sets a goal for his players to grab at least three offensive rebounds. On Thursday, three of Thorpe’s career-best seven rebounds against the Flames came on the offensive glass.
That’s a big checkmark in Montgomery’s book.
“He was elite tonight. We needed that,” Montgomery said.