Senior Marke Freeman scored 30 points and flirted with a triple-double, helping the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team capture a 73-62 win over Ball State, Wednesday at the Convocation Center.
Freeman added nine steals and eight rebounds while matching her season high in points. She scored nine points in a row during a 15-0 first half run that put the Huskies (7-11, 1-4 Mid-American Conference) up by 20 with 5:43 left in the first half.
“Marke was incredibly locked in; you could tell in the locker room how ready she was,” NIU head coach Kathi Bennett said. “It was a really exceptional performance. She let the game come to her and really played well.”
While Freeman lit up Ball State (7-11, 2-3 MAC), the Huskie defense kept the Cardinal offense grounded. BSU didn’t score until more than six minutes into the game, and had only nine points over the first 14 minutes.
Northern Illinois went into halftime with a 38-19 lead. The Huskies held Ball State to 20.0 percent shooting and the Cardinals committed 15 first half turnovers leading to 13 NIU points. A physical game saw NIU go 16-of-22 from the free throw line in the opening period, and 21-of-30 overall.
“There’s a difference between non-conference and conference play, and you have to be tougher in MAC games,” Bennett said. “For the first half, that is the most focused we have been for 20 minutes.”
The Cardinals briefly threatened a comeback. With NIU up 15 and just over six minutes left, Ty’Ronda Benning scored 11 straight points for the Cardinals, bringing her team to within eight with 2:19 left. The finals 139 seconds saw six fouls and five turnovers between the two teams, but Kim Davis made a lay-up off a press break and NIU made 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
“We weathered it, and I’m really proud of the effort and how together we stayed,” Bennett said.
Davis totaled nine rebounds, six points and two steals. She played 35 minutes, by far the most of any NIU forward. Davis was tabbed with defending Emily Maggert, Ball State’s leading scoring throughout who managed only seven points.
“Kim did a tremendous job on Maggert,” Bennett said. “I thought she out-toughed (Maggert) tonight.”
While the league win is Kathi Bennett’s first as a coach in the MAC, Northern Illinois has been in every conference game this season. The Huskies held Toledo and Central Michigan to 21.5 points below their respective season averages, and lost by only four points to Western Michigan.
“We’ve competed with everybody; all of our (conference) games have been close,” Bennett said. “To finally get the win feels really good. We know the majority of the season is left in the MAC and we’re really excited about that.”
The Huskies enter cross-divisional play Sunday, when they host Miami (OH) at 3 p.m. in the Convocation Center.
by Russell Houghtaling