Trailing by 12 at halftime, the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team came all the way back to grab a late lead but could not hang on as Ball State won 50-43 at Worthen Arena on Wednesday night in Mid-American Conference action.
The win marks the first for Ball State (7-9, 2-1 MAC) against NIU Head Coach Kathi Bennett, who entered the game with a perfect 6-0 record versus the Cardinals.
It also spoiled the second homecoming for NIU Associate Head Coach Marsha Frese, who was a BSU assistant from 1999-2001, and Director of Basketball Operations Danielle Gratton, who was a BSU All-MAC player from 2008-10. Last year, the Huskies (6-9, 0-3 MAC)) took the duo’s first homecoming and swept the series 2-0.
NIU will have to wait until Feb. 16 to attempt to avenge the loss.
With NIU’s fifth consecutive setback, the Huskies have tied their longest positive or negative streak of decisions under Bennett as NIU lost five straight from Jan. 3-15 last season.
In the first half, BSU forced 15 NIU turnovers for 14 points while NIU was only able to turn 13 BSU turnovers into six points. The Cardinals also sank five threes to NIU’s zero to grab the 12-point halftime lead.
NIU regrouped in the locker room and came out with an 11-4 run over the first seven minutes that was capped by a Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah) floater. With the Huskies facing their smallest deficit since the 7:22 mark of the first half, BSU called timeout as the Cardinals sensed the momentum swinging.
“We are a very, very good defensive team,” said Bennett. “We could not have played any better on that end. We have to work harder on the offensive end with our shot selection. It’s hard for us to teach. Eventually, is it going to come around? I hope so, but we had some good looks. Finishing with contact is something we need to work on and get better at. I really believe the way we played in the second half was a positive sign. I feel from this we are definitely going to get better as a team.”
The break didn’t do much to stop NIU as a few minutes later Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) scored on a spinning layup and Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston) sank three free throws to bring the Huskies within one, 39-38, with 5:49 remaining.
Out of another Cardinal timeout, Jakubicek delivered another spinning layup to give NIU its first lead since leading 4-3 with 18:58 left in the first half
Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) then upped the lead to two, 41-39, with a free throw with 4:33 left.
It seemed as if all momentum was in favor of the Huskies but then all of a sudden all the good looks that were dropping during their second half charge started rimming out and BSU ended the game with solid free throw shooting, going 9-for-11 down the stretch.
After Corral’s free throw, BSU’s Brandy Woody dropped in a pair of freebies to tie the game with 4:16 left. Shelton came down trying to answer with a three but it just missed and another NIU foul led to Jazmin Hitchens making one of two free throws to put BSU ahead again.
The Cardinals then grabbed the board off the Hitchens’ miss, which led to Suzanne Grossnickle netting a pair of throws to put BSU ahead 44-41 with 3:34 left. Following two Jakubicek free throws, Grossnickle delivered a three-point play in the post to give the Cardinals a 47-43 lead with 3:07 remaining, and NIU would get no closer.
“The other thing that tells you how good defensively we are is when you turn the ball over 25 times the effort on [the defensive] end to get back and play that many more possessions is amazing,” Bennett said. “Hopefully with the more games we play, the ball security will get better.”
Jakubicek led NIU with 12 points, marking her first double digit scoring performance over the last four games and fifth overall on the season.
The Huskies next return home for a double header with the NIU men’s basketball team on Saturday, January 14, at the NIU Convocation Center. The women will take on Toledo at 1 p.m. and the men will follow against Central Michigan at 3:30 p.m.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.