The Northern Illinois women’s basketball team ground out its first win over Illinois State at Redbird Arena since December 2002 Thursday night.
The Huskies (4-3), who led by as much as 11 points, won their second consecutive game of the season, defeating the Redbirds (1-5), 57-52.
Junior Danny Pulliam (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) scored a career-high 16 points with 10 of those coming from the free throw line.
“As one of my assistants said, we weathered the storm and I felt like that’s what we did tonight,” said head coach Kathi Bennett. “Every time they made a run, we made a free throw or got a random basket and held them at bay.”
In their four wins this season, the Huskies have held all of their opponents under 60 points.
Illinois State came out with a hot hand as it opened the game 5-of-8 (.625) to take a 10-4 lead in the opening quarter of the first half. Following a baseline drive and a right-handed layup by Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) to make it 10-6, the Huskie defense began to clamp down on the Redbirds and went on an 8-0 run to take a 12-10 lead with 10:48 left in the stanza.
Northern Illinois’ speed and movement on and off the ball on the offensive side of the floor, created confusion for Illinois State defensively, creating open passing lanes and leading the Redbirds to foul in an attempt to close those lanes. The Redbirds committed 13 fouls in the half and put the Huskies in the double bonus with 5:52 left in the first half.
While NIU led 28-19 at halftime, it was scoring by committee as Corral, Pulliam and Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) all scored six points in the frame. As a team, NIU was 6-for-9 (.667) at the line and 11-for-23 (.478) from the field to mark the third straight period Northern Illinois shot over 47 percent from the field.
The Redbirds 19 points was the lowest point total allowed by Northern Illinois this season.
The NIU Huskies opened with that same confidence in the second half, making five of their first seven shots of the half to build an 11 point lead six minutes into the half, 38-27, their largest lead of the contest.
With both teams trading baskets, fouls and turnovers, Illinois State jumped back to within seven points, 38-31, with 13 minutes remaining. With points at premium, sophomore Alexis Lindstrom (Howards Grove, Wis./Howards Grove) hit the only three-point basket of the game to put NIU back up by 10, 41-31, with 12:25 left in the game.
At the 9:01 mark and with Northern Illinois leading Illinois State, 45-36, the officials reviewed a play that resulted in at least a six minute stoppage in play. After the officials determined offsetting fouls, ISU began to grab some momentum back from NIU.
The Redbirds would not allow a Huskie field goal from the 10:01 mark to the final 1:59 of the game to go on a 10-3 run as Northern Illinois scored three from the free throw line. With 119 ticks on the clock left, Augusta broke the field goal drought on a layup, marking the Huskies first basket in 8:02. The basket pushed NIU ahead by four, 50-46.
Illinois State only made one more shot in the final two minutes of the game as Stekara Hall, who closed the game with 21 points drained the lone basket. The two teams traded free throws to close the scoring with NIU holding advantage, 57-52.
Augusta finished the game with 16 points, going 7-for-11 (.636) from the field to share the scoring lead with Pulliam. It marks the fourth-straight game, and the fifth time overall, that she had scored in double figures. She also pulled down seven rebounds. Pulliam’s 16 was a new career-high, surpassing the mark of 15 set at Illinois State her freshman year. She also had four assists and zero turnovers.
Northern Illinois now enters finals week and will not return to action until Tuesday, Dec. 17, when it takes on South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. Tipoff at Frost Arena will commence at 7 p.m.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.