Northern Illinois did it to Western Michigan on Jan. 19 and WMU returned the favor in a 66-64 overtime win over NIU on Tuesday night at the NIU Convocation Center in the last Mid-American Conference regular season game.
The 53-41 win for NIU back in January in Kalamazoo, Mich., snapped a six-game losing streak for the Huskies (12-16, 6-10 MAC), a three-game losing streak against the Broncos, and ended WMU’s (8-21, 5-11 MAC) six-game home winning streak versus MAC opponents.
With seeds in the MAC Tournament up for grabs, the Broncos evened the season series, pushed NIU’s losing streak to four, and spoiled Senior Night for Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston) and Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah).
“I felt like it was a really hard-to-play game,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett. “Western Michigan exposed some things against us and did a good job defensively. I think we weren’t our normal selves tonight. We seemed a step slow. That’s something we are going to work hard on to correct.”
But all was not lost for the Huskies, who finished fourth in the MAC West, as they fell from No. 6 overall in the MAC to No. 7.
Western Michigan held its ground at No. 10 overall to matchup with the Huskies at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 3, for a rubber match at the NIU Convocation Center in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
“I felt like [winning tonight] would definitely help us [in the tournament],” said Bennett. “But it didn’t and it’s over. You have to get yourself ready regardless. It’s a brand new start – it’s tournament time – that’s what you live for. We have to find the energy to do it.”
After trailing 27-22 at the half, NIU opened up the second half on a 9-0 run to take its first lead since 2-0. A few minutes later, Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) dropped in a three to break a 37-37 tie and would hit another triple on the next possession to give the Huskies a 43-39 lead with 9:17 left.
Nearly five minutes later, a Shelton free throw gave NIU its largest lead of the game, 52-46, with 4:02 left. But the Broncos would go on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 52 with 2:18 remaining.
Jenna Thorp (Hinckley, Ill./Hinckley-Big Rock) converted one of two free throws with 1:52 left to give the Huskies a slim 53-52 edge. But Julia Henson nailed a deep three with 51 seconds left, putting WMU up 55-53.
After Davis missed a pair of chances to tie the game and two WMU free throws, it looked as if NIU would lose in regulation.
However, Taylor scored on a left-handed drive and layup with 12 seconds left. The Broncos then managed to throw the inbound pass out of bounds without being touch as Thorp provided great pressure on the play. Taylor once again answered with another drive and left-handed finish in the paint to knot the score at 57 with nine seconds left.
The Broncos failed to get off a quality shot as a desperation, opposite-handed three by Aurielle Anderson fell well short to send the game to overtime.
In the extra session, WMU opened up a quick 63-59 lead and still held the four-point edge with 12 seconds left, up 66-62. After a missed three by Shelton that deflected out of bounds, WMU’s inbound pass was stolen by Taylor and quickly laid in with two seconds left to cut the deficit to two points.
Unfortunately, NIU was not lucky enough to repeat the feat to tie or win the game on the Broncos’ ensuing inbound pass.
Taylor led NIU with a career-high 20 points as she was 8-for-13 from the field. In their last regular season home game, Davis had 11 points and nine rebounds and Shelton had eight points and six assists.
Anderson paced WMU with 29 points and scored all nine Bronco points in overtime.
“We got stretched out defensively and struggled to recover,” Bennett said. “We’ll be able to watch film as a team and make corrections.”