The Northern Illinois women’s basketball team shot 48.9 percent from the field, 12 points better than Eastern Michigan, but fell to the Eagles 79-63 in both teams’ Mid-American Conference opener Wednesday at the Convocation Center.
NIU (6-8, 0-1 MAC) trailed for the entire game after a slow start put the Huskies in a 7-0 hole less than two minutes into the game. NIU trailed by nine, 47-38, before Marke Freeman catalyzed a 7-2 run to get her team within four with 12:17 left. Eastern Michigan (10-5, 1-0 MAC) responded with a 10-2 run in which it scored off an NIU turnover and an offensive rebound to extend its lead to 12. After that, Northern Illinois cut the lead to single digits only once.
Rebounding proved to be a defining factor.
The Eagles pounded NIU on the glass with 15 offensive boards in the first half. Over the opening 20 minutes, the Huskies were outrebounded 26-10, and though they closed the gap to -14 by the end of the game, the damage had been done. The Eagles finished the night with 14 second chance points.
Though the Huskies spotted EMU a seven point lead the start, NIU responded with a 7-3 run to pull back within three points. Sophomore Brittney Callahan scored three of her career-high 11 points during the spurt, while Ebony Ellis and Courtney Shelton added two points each.
The Eagles reacted with a three-pointer by De’Ja Willis, one of 12 EMU triples. Minutes later, NIU cut the lead to 13-11 on a trey by Shelton, but another Eastern Michigan three-pointer, this one by Tavelyn James, stunted any rising Huskie momentum. James later capped the first half with a steal and a buzzer-beating bank triple, three of her game-high 26 points, to put NIU down 39-28 at the break.
The Huskies burst out of the locker room with renewed vigor, scoring the second half’s first seven points to cut the lead to four. James countered with back-to-back three pointers sandwiching one of NIU’s 22 turnovers to keep Northern Illinois at bay.
Ellis put together her best game in weeks, tying her season-high with 18 points and pulling down a team-high seven rebounds. The Joliet, Ill., native was especially potent in the second half, with 12 points and five boards. Shelton added 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including making all three of her attempts from beyond the arc. Callahan has come on strong of late, averaging 7.5 points per game over the last four games, well above her season average of 3.7 ppg.
Freeman reached a career milestone, becoming only the 16th Huskie to total 250 assists. The senior had six rebounds to go with six points, and is now just four points shy of 1,000 for her career.
In addition to James’ 26, Cassie Schrock poured in 24 and Paige Redditt added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Eagles.
The Huskies return to action Saturday at Central Michigan. Tip-off in Mt. Pleasant is set for 1 p.m.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball, visit www.niuhuskies.com