Women’s basketball team to host Ohio Bobcats Sunday in opening round of MAC tourney

NIU Huskies women's basketballThe Northern Illinois women’s basketball team will host Ohio in the opening round of the 2011 FirstEnergy Mid-American Conference Tournament at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 6, in the NIU Convocation Center.

“We can’t wait to play a very good Ohio team on our home floor,” NIU head coach Kathi Bennett said. “This is a great first-round match-up for the tournament. Ohio is a very dangerous team, and it will be a great challenge for us.”

NIU, which has won four of its last six contests, enters the tournament as the No. 7 seed.

The Huskies (13-16, 7-9 MAC) will pull a sled full of confidence into the tournament after defeating top-seed Toledo then Ball State to finish the regular season.

The Bobcats (8-21, 5-10 MAC), then 10 seed, also finished their season on a high note. After leading by just one at halftime over Miami (Ohio), Ohio outscored the RedHawks 48-20 in the second half to win by 29. Prior to that, the Bobcats had lost eight of their last nine, including a 56-48 loss to Northern Illinois in Athens.

The first 400 fans to arrive at the Convocation Center will receive a free commemorative game poster, featuring the on-court leaders of both squads. Tickets for Sunday’s game are available online at www.NIUHuskies.com or by calling the NIU Ticket Office at (815) 752-6800.

Kathi Bennett talks to the NIU women's basketball team.
Kathi Bennett talks to the NIU women's basketball team.

Bennett emphasized the correlation between Huskie fan support in the stands and success on the court. “Our fans are our sixth man,” she said. “They give us the energy to go after those loose balls, to give that extra effort defensively, and to win the 50-50 plays that so often decide ball games.”

Throughout the season, the Huskies have been led by seniors Ebony Ellis and Marke Freeman, but that has been the case more than ever over the last six contests. In that span, Freeman has averaged 15.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and better than two steals and two assists per game. Ellis has secured three double-doubles, while averaging 12.0 points and 9.7 rebounds.

“All of our seniors have stepped up as the end of the season comes closer,” Bennett said. “They know this is their last run, and they want to do something special.”

Ohio has been paced by the standout play of Tenishia Benson. The redshirt junior averages 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Benson did not start against the Huskies earlier this season due to a broken orbital bone. She came off the bench for the only time this season to score 17 points and grab nine rebounds.

“Benson is a terrific player,” Bennett said. “She was hurt last time against us and still had a great game.”

In their last meeting, the Huskies led by five at halftime, but held Ohio without a field goal for over 10 minutes to start the second half. During that span, NIU outscored Ohio 17-4 to take a 42-24 lead, which they held on to for the win. Freeman had 23 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in that match-up. Junior Courtney Shelton added nine points, while Ellis chipped in eight and eight boards.

“We have to go out and make sure we play with a high level of energy and intensity,” Bennett said. “We showed in our last two games that we are a good team when we do.”

Fans who can’t make it to the arena can watch the game online at through Huskie All-Access. With a win, NIU would advance to the MAC Tournament Quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The Huskies would face second-seed Bowling Green at 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 9.

For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.

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