Just when Marke Freeman thought her Senior Night could not get any better, it did.
Freeman, one of four seniors on the Northern Illinois women’s basketball roster, led her team to a 57-53 upset over Mid-American Conference regular season champion Toledo, Saturday at the Convocation Center.
After the night appeared to peak with the win, surrounded by family and friends in a postgame reception, Freeman’s longtime boyfriend Kenny Anderson proposed. And just like Freeman had fans saying when she hit the game-sealing free throws, she said “yes.”
The Huskies improved to 12-16 overall and 6-9 in MAC games. Toledo lost for only the second time in league play, falling to 13-2 in conference games and 21-7 overall.
“I’m really happy for our seniors to get this win,” NIU head coach Kathi Bennett said. “To beat the best, on your home court, on Senior Night, means a lot.”
Freeman wasn’t the only senior to have a near-perfect night. Ebony Ellis scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to co-lead the Huskies to victory. Ellis’ total on the glass included seven offensive boards, and Bennett said she estimated Ellis touched “95 percent” of missed shots when she was on the floor. Bennett had high praise for all of her seniors’ games.
“Their performances were about as special as it gets,” Bennett said.
The Huskies held the MAC Champions at bay with clutch free throw shooting and defense down the stretch. Toledo’s Melissa Goodall connected on a 3-pointer with 59 seconds remaining to bring the Rockets to within two points. From that point forward, the Huskies hit 7-of-8 free throws, including six makes by Freeman, to close the door on the champions.
NIU played one of the best defensive halves of the season over the opening 20 minutes, holding Toledo to 29.6 percent shooting and just 22 points.
“Our first-half defense was incredible,” Bennett said.
That defense allowed the Huskies to take a 28-22 lead into halftime. While Toledo upped its field goal percentage to 52.4 in the second half, NIU rebounded, forced turnovers, and hit buckets at critical moments to carry the day.
“Our focus, our discipline, our intensity was there for 40 minutes,” Bennett said. “We made crucial shots at crucial times.”
The Huskies can secure a MAC Tournament First Round home game with a win Wednesday, March 2 at Ball State. Even with a loss, Saturday’s win has given NIU the inside track on Western Michigan to host. The only scenario in which the Huskies would be forced to play a road game includes an NIU loss and a Western Michigan win at Eastern Michigan.
After the exuberance over the Toledo win died down, Freeman summed up the Huskies’ current situation two brief sentences.
“There’s more basketball to be played,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”
For highlights and more on the NIU victory over Toledo logon to www.NIUHuskies.com.