MUNCIE, Ind. – Marke Freeman blocked a potentially game-tying three-pointer by Ty’ronda Benning at the buzzer Wednesday, securing a 49-46 win for the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team over Ball State at Worthern Arena.
“We knew it was going to be hard because it was (Ball State’s) senior night, and I was just proud of our character and will,” NIU head coach Kathi Bennett said.
The Huskies (13-16, 7-9 Mid-American Conference) earned the seventh seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, and will host Ohio in the first round at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 6, at the NIU Convocation Center.
Tickets for Sunday’s game are available online at NIUHuskies.com or by calling the NIU Ticket Office at (815) 752-6800.
“I think we’re in a good place as a team,” Bennett said ahead of her MAC Tournament coaching debut. “I feel like earlier in the year we would have folded, and that says a lot about where we’ve come.”
Freeman’s block was the last in a series of clutch plays by the senior. She scored all nine of her second-half points in the final 4:40. She hit a three to give NIU a 40-37 lead, highlighting a 9-0 run that took the Huskies from down four to up five.
The Cardinals (9-20, 4-12 MAC) battled back to get within one point on two occasions, both times thanks to 3-pointers by Ebony Jackson, who entered the game shooting just 21.6 percent from downtown. Despite the unlikely triples, Ball State was forced to foul in the waning moments of the game, and Freeman went 4-of-4 from the free throw line in the last 24 seconds before her game-securing block.
“Her free throws again down the stretch were big, and her defensive play down the stretch was crucial,” Bennett said.
As a team, NIU’s defensive play was stifling. The Huskies held Ball State without a field goal for the first 12 minutes of the game, building a 15-2 lead. The Cardinals clawed back into the game as Northern Illinois’ offense slowed. By halftime, BSU had cut the lead to six, 24-18. Ball State shot just 24.0 percent from the field in the first half, while NIU hit 34.6 percent of its shots.
The Cardinals continued their comeback in the second, limiting NIU to just three points in the first 9:05 out of the locker room. In that time, Ball State went from down six to up six, their largest lead of the game. Two minutes later, the Huskies went on their 9-0 run to take the lead for good.
Freeman finished the game with 19 points, despite being doubled-teamed nearly everywhere she went. She added seven rebounds, three steals, an assist and the resounding block on Benning.
“All game she was dogged, denied,” Bennett said. “They really always had two people on her, denying, bumping. Her presence and composure the whole game was something else, because they really were physical.”
Freshman Danielle Pulliam, playing just an hour from her hometown of Indianapolis, scored nine points with five boards. Senior Ebony Ellis added eight points and five rebounds, while Kim Davis had six points and eight rebounds.
Ball State’s Emily Maggert led her team with 17 points and seven rebounds. Freshman Jazmin Hitchens added 10 points and five boards for the Cardinals.
Northern Illinois won their match-up against Ohio earlier this season, 56-48. The Huskies held the Bobcats to just 48 points on 25.9 percent shooting, and Freeman had 23 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in that meeting.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.