TOLEDO, Ohio – Smothering defense and tenacious rebounding could not overcome an off shooting night Wednesday for the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team, which fell 42-31 to Toledo at Savage Arena.
The Huskies (6-10, 0-3 Mid-American Conference) held the Rockets (11-5, 3-0 MAC) to their lowest point total and lowest field goal percentage of the season. Against a stifling NIU defense, Toledo shot just 29.6 percent (16-54), including hitting only 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) of its second-half field goal attempts.
“Defensively we were tremendous,” NIU head coach Kathi Bennett said. “We did everything we wanted to do. We played hard, did a great job on Naama (Shafir), and we did that.”
Shafir, Toledo’s second leading scorer and the top assist dealer in the MAC, was limited to 12 points and two dimes.
While the Huskie defense played with a stubborn persistence, the NIU offense never found a groove. Senior Marke Freeman accounted for all nine of Northern Illinois’ first half points, all on three-pointers. The Huskies made only 3-of-23 field goal attempts over the first 20 minutes, and went 12-of-51 shooting (23.5 percent) overall.
Despite the offensive drought, the Huskies stayed persistence on the defensive end for 40 minutes. Toledo’s previous scoring low was 50, and the Rockets were averaging 65 points per contest coming into the game.
“I was really proud of our team in the first half because it would’ve been very easy to fall apart,” Bennett said. “We really stayed together. We had positive talk with each other and there wasn’t a time where I saw any quit in anybody. It was hard, but I was really proud to be a Huskie, and I was proud of them.”
Shafir scored the game’s first two baskets, helping the Rockets jump out to a 10-3 lead. Freeman nailed the opening three-pointer for NIU and added two more to keep the Toledo lead in single digits for the early stages of the game. It was 17-8 with 10:28 left in the first when a scoring drought left both teams without a point for nearly five minutes. The Rockets closed the half with an 8-0 run to lead 25-9 at halftime.
NIU found a bit more offense in the second half, relying on the inside presence of Ebony Ellis early on. She scored five of the Huskies’ first seven points out of the locker room, helping Northern Illinois cut the lead to 27-17. Later in the half, Ellis would contribute two points and freshman Danielle Pulliam added four points of a 6-2 run that brought the lead to single digits, 33-24 with 6:45 remaining. Toledo responded with a 6-0 spurt to go up by 15 with 3:39 left, and rode that lead to victory.
Freeman’s nine points led NIU. Ellis and Pulliam chipped in seven each while Courtney Shelton had six. Bianca Brown rounded out the Huskie scoring with two. Three Huskies tallied double-figure rebounds. Freeman led NIU with 11, while Ellis and sophomore Kim Davis grabbed 10 each. Their efforts helped NIU to a 42-31 edge on the boards, their second largest margin this year.
“We were really disciplined in blocking out,” Bennett said. “We wanted it more, and we played hard.”
Northern Illinois returns home to face Western Michigan, Saturday at 1 p.m. in game one of a Huskie Basketball doubleheader. In the nightcap, the NIU men’s team looks for its second straight league win against Toledo at 3:30 p.m.