Six years ago to the day was the last time the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team won a game at Akron.
NIU put a stop to the drought on Wednesday at Rhodes Arena with a 72-66 win for its second straight Mid-American Conference road win.
“It’s a huge win and that was some good basketball,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett. “Besides the slow start, I feel like we moved the ball really well. Defensively, we did a wonderful job with our matchups. Every single kid on [Akron] can score. We did a good job of remembering our scouting report.
“We did a good job of rallying — we got down big early. We stayed the course. We we’re playing well but just not knocking down shots.”
Trailing by as much as 14 in the first half, NIU (8-11, 2-5 MAC) ended on a 20-8 run over the final 11:42 to go into the locker room with a manageable two-point deficit, 29-27.
The key to the run was the stingy Huskie defense, one of the best in the MAC. Akron (9-12, 3-4 MAC), the MAC’s top offense, opened the game 7-for-15 from the field to build the lead but then went 3-for-13 during the Huskie run.
In the second half, NIU turned the tables and put its offense on display as the Huskies outscored the Zips 45-37 for their highest scoring half of the season, which led to their highest regulation output of the season. For nearly the first eight minutes of the final stanza, NIU flirted with taking the lead but couldn’t quite get over the hump. Finally, Amada Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) drove in for a layup to give the Huskies their first lead, 44-43, since the 18:45 mark of the first half with 12:13 remaining.
Then the teams would go back and forth as the lead changed hands five times over the next eight minutes. A pair of free throws from Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) knotted the game at 56 with 4:13 left, and that would mark the last time that Akron would be even with the Huskies.
Jakubicek sank two more free throws on the next possession to put NIU ahead for good, and push her made free throw streak to 23. After a Corral free throw, Jakubicek scored in the paint to complete a 5-0 run.
Nearly a minute later, Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston) score on the left block for NIU’s last field goal. From there, the Huskies went 9-for-11 from the free throw line over the last 1:30 of the game to seal it.
Free throw shooting proved to be a significant factor in the game as NIU was 26-for-30 (86.7 percent) and Akron was 13-for-23 (56.5%). The free throw performance was the most made and attempted for NIU in regulation all season and marked the second highest accuracy rate. Davis led the way, making nine of 11 attempts, while Jakubicek was a perfect 8-for-8.
“We were trying to attack the rim and get open gaps,” Bennett said. “Our players are doing a better job of recognizing gaps and trying to create for each other. We had to make big free throws down the stretch.”
With NIU moving the ball to the tune of 16 assists on 21 made field goals, three Huskies in particular prospered. Jakubicek led the way with 18 points. Davis added 15 and a team-high seven rebounds. Corral tied her season high with 17 points. NIU is now 5-2 when having three or more players score in double figures.
Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Rockford) was the main distributor as she racked up a season-high-tying seven assists.
NIU gets back to action at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, against the MAC East Division with a contest versus Kent State at the NIU Convocation Center.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.