En route to its first Mid-American Conference win of the season, NIU (7-10, 1-4 MAC) held WMU (5-13, 2-3 MAC) to a 28.8 shooting percentage and forced 22 turnovers.
The win for NIU puts an end to its six-game losing streak and snaps the Broncos’ six-game winning streak at home versus MAC foes. The victory also halted a three-game losing streak NIU had against WMU.
Defensively, NIU put together one of its best efforts of the year. The Huskies totaled a season-high 10 steals and forced 22 turnovers, which is the second highest total of the season for NIU. They also gave up the second lowest point total of the season and third lowest shooting percentage.
“We still have to a better job of finishing at the rim,” said Bennett. “We had a chance to really run away with this one but missed some layups. Defensively, we’ve been consistent and done a good job and that’s why we are in games. We really do have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and finishing at the rim. The energy and effort tonight was great, though.”
A tightly contested first half left NIU with a 21-20 lead going into the locker room as a pair of late jumpers by Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) helped NIU overcome an 18-15 deficit.
The second half was a different story as NIU jumped out to an 11-4 run over the first five-plus minutes to grab a commanding 32-24 lead. Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) started the half with a layup and a few plays later Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston) scored layups on back-to-back possessions to force a WMU timeout.
Out of the timeout, Davis stole the ball and passed ahead to Alicia Johnson (Harvey, Ill./Thornton) for a fast break in which Johnson was fouled. She calmly sank both freebies to put the NIU lead at 10, 34-24, with 14:11 left, which was the largest lead the Huskies had built until their final two points of the game made it a 12-point win.
With the Huskie defense settling in and wearing down the Broncos, WMU never got closer than five points the rest of the way as NIU had an answer every time the Broncos seemed to be building any momentum.
When the lead was cut to five with 10:21 left, Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah) scored on a fast break. After WMU countered with a basket on the next play, Davis scored in the paint. A few minutes later, WMU had the lead down to six but Corral nailed a three-pointer to keep the separation.
Then the Huskies put the game on ice at the free throw line as they connected on eight of 11 shots from the charity stripe over the last six minutes of the game. Overall, NIU was 16-for-20 from the line. The 80 percent mark was the second highest free throw performance all year for the Huskies.
“Our kids hit really big free throws and that was the difference in the game for us,” Bennett said.
Corral paced the Huskies with a game-high 15 points for her second straight game in double figures. Davis and Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) added 10 apiece. In her third game in double figures and first since Dec. 22, Davis also turned in a game-high seven rebounds and had a team-high three steals.
“Kim’s energy on the glass was really needed and she did a good job,” said Bennett.
With the first tour of the West Division complete, NIU returns home for Alumni Day on Sunday, Jan. 22, against Buffalo at 3 p.m. CT to open up play versus the East Division. Several Huskie alumni will be recognized at halftime. Tickets for the contest will also be good for NIU gymnastics’ home meet versus Western Michigan at 2 p.m. in Victor E. Court.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.