Northern Illinois dropped its Mid-American Conference home opener to Ball State, 57-51, on Sunday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
The loss moves the Huskies to 5-10, 0-2 in MAC play while the Cardinals improved to 5-10, 2-0 in the league’s first weekend of head-to-head competition.
Neither side took full control of the game as Ball State’s biggest lead was seven points, coming at the 14:43 mark of the first half, and NIU’s was five at the 3:42 mark of the first half as well.
However, it was 25 turnovers and only three assists that doomed the Huskies. NIU’s second highest turnover total of the season featured 19 unforced giveaways and led to a 21-15 edge in points off turnovers for BSU, who had 18 itself along with 11 assists.
“Three assists to 25 turnovers shows just a lack of composure,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett. “Tay (Satavia Taylor) played well and hard today. Without her it could’ve gotten ugly. We need her to score like this for us, along with Amanda [Corral].
“We have to get better at controlling the ball, making the extra pass and finding open people. We have to help each other. Our chemistry between the bigs and guards on both sides of the ball is a little off right now. If we can get that down and have more of an attack mentality it will help a lot.”
Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) was a huge bright spot for NIU on the day as she went off for a career-high 24 points. She missed just three shots as she was 8-for-10 on field goals overall, 4-for-4 on three-pointers and 4-for-5 at the free throw line.
Taylor’s first three helped erase a 10-3 start by Ball State and gave the Huskies a 16-15 lead. A few minutes later, she connected from downtown in the corner and sank two free throws to give NIU its largest lead of the game, 23-18.
After an 8-4 Cardinal run near the end of the first half that gave BSU the lead again, Taylor got to the foul line and made two more free throws to leave the game tied 27-27 at the half. Free throws played a huge role for the Huskies in the first half as they were 12-for-12 and BSU was just 2-for-4 at the line.
Ball State started strong again in the second half, opening a 36-31 lead with a 9-4 run. Shortly after the run, Taylor answered again with a personal 6-0 run, burying two straight threes to put NIU up 45-43 with 10:42 left.
However, NIU could not hang onto the lead as four consecutive turnovers helped the Cardinals to a 10-2 spurt. Trailing 53-47 with 4:18 remaining, the Huskies employed a full-court press and more defensive pressure to cut the lead to 53-51 with 1:22 left after a steal in the backcourt by Ashley Sneed (Harvey, Ill./Thornton) and layup by Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart), who finished with 15 points.
But a backdoor cut for a layup and a turnover that led to a fast break layup for Ball State ended NIU’s hopes of winning its first MAC home opener in four years. The layups gave BSU its 26th and 28th points in the paint, an area where the Cardinals held a 28-8 advantage in over the Huskies.
NIU gets right back to action at home against Akron at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16.