Senior forward Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston) has lived on the offensive glass all season.
Her grittiness greatly benefitted Northern Illinois as she scrapped Courtney Shelton’s (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah) miss and laid it in amongst traffic with six seconds left to give No. 7 NIU a 61-60 win over No. 6 Akron on Wednesday afternoon in the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.
“They hurt us on the offensive glass all night and that’s how we won – Kim Davis gets the put-back,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett, who is now 27-15 in postseason play and 2-1 in the MAC Tournament. “I thought that was pretty special. We never stopped believing, even when we lost the lead. We just had to execute.”
Akron (14-18, 7-9 MAC) then had a chance to answer as Jasmine Mushington got the ball on the left wing with nearly three seconds left but her desperation attempt was too long and hit the opposite side of the backboard as time expired.
With its first two-win appearance in the MAC Tournament since 2007, NIU (14-16, 6-10 MAC) has eclipsed its win total in Year One under its second-year coach and the program is pointed in the right direction with a chance to upset No. 3 Toledo tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. CT in the quarterfinals.
“The good thing is we just played Toledo,” said Bennett. “We have a fresh scout and know what their tendencies are. I know they have the MAC Defensive Player of the Year (Andola Dortch) and will try to knock Courtney off the ball. It’s just a great opportunity and you go for it when you’re here.”
A tight first half left NIU with a 27-23 lead after Davis stole an Akron outlet pass for an easy layup with nine seconds left. Both teams struggled from the field as NIU went 12-for-35 (34.3%) and Akron was 8-for-33 (24.2%). The half featured seven ties and 10 lead changes as neither side grabbed control of the game.
But in the first four-plus minutes of the second half, the Huskies took command.
Freshman Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) started the stanza with a spinning layup for a three-point play. Jenna Thorp (Hinckley, Ill./Hinckley-Big Rock) then followed with a layup to give NIU its largest lead at the time, 32-23.
A few minutes later, Shelton drained a jumper from the top of the key to give the Huskies their largest lead of the game, 42-32, with 13:51 left. But Akron used a 22-11 run over the next nine minutes to take a 54-53 lead with five minutes remaining.
Nearly three minutes later, the game was still tied, 57-57, with 1:47 left after a pair of Davis free throws. Then, Akron’s Kacie Cassell hit a wide-open three with 1:23 left to take a 60-57 lead, NIU failed to convert on its end, and the Zips had the ball back with under a minute to go.
At this point, it was not looking good for the Huskies.
As they have done all season, though, the Huskies relied on a tough defensive stand to get the ball back and Shelton scored on a floater in the lane to cut the lead to one, 60-59, with 33 seconds left.
NIU immediately fouled Cassell with 31 seconds left. The strategy worked as she missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw attempt. Davis secured the rebound for NIU and Bennett called timeout to set up the final play with 18 seconds left, and the rest is history.
“I’m just really thankful for this opportunity and how hard our team plays,” Bennett said. “We battled and didn’t give them any easy touches. We did a good job of matching them and being physical.”
Four Huskies scored in double figures as the Huskies improved to 10-2 when having three or more in double figures this season. Corral and Shelton each had 14. Davis and Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) tallied 12 apiece. Davis and Corral also added nine and seven rebounds, respectively.
Mushington led Akron with a game-high 17 points.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskies athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.