Senior guard Marke Freeman totaled 24 points to lead the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team to a 68-64 victory over Chicago State in the Huskies’ home opener at the NIU Convocation Center, Saturday afternoon.
The Huskies improved to 4-2 the season with their win over the Cougars, as first year NIU head coach Kathi Bennett claimed her 300th career win. Bennett is off to the best six-game start by a first year head coach in Northern Illinois history.
“We found a way to win, and I thought that was crucial,” Bennett said. “There’s definitely a belief that they can (win) in close games.”
The Huskies led by as many as 13 points in the first half, and went into the locker room with a 41-29 lead. The 41 points were the most NIU has scored in a half this season. Defensively, the Huskies allowed just 33.3 percent shooting in the first period by Chicago State, which fell to 1-3 on the year.
The Cougars fought back in the second half with a 14-3 run, tying the game at 53 with a three-pointer by Janay Dockery with 8:25 left.
“I thought Chicago State came out and outhustled us, and played a little bit harder and more physical,” Bennett said.
Two possessions later, Huskie freshman Ashley Sneed scored back-to-back baskets to extend the NIU lead to 59-55.
“Ashley Sneed came in at the end of the game and made some good plays for us,” Bennett said.
The Cougars followed with a 7-2 spurt to take their first and only lead of the game, 62-61.
Freeman answered with a jumper with 1:39 left, and NIU stopped Chicago State on the ensuing possession, forcing the Cougars to foul to stop the clock. From there, the Huskies hit five-of-six free throws to seal the game.
Freeman had her fourth 20-point game of the season, and added four assists to her six boards. Ebony Ellis and Courtney Shelton each scored 14, with Ellis adding eight rebounds before fouling out. Beckel led the Cougars with 15 points, and was one of four CSU players in double-figures.
The 4-2 start is the best opening to a Huskie season since 2006-07, when Northern Illinois won seven of its first nine games. NIU tips-off the second of two five-game road trips this year at UIC, Tuesday. Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.