The Northern Illinois women’s basketball team played near exactly how third-year head coach Kathi Bennett wanted her team to play – tough defense, hold a rebounding advantage and score just enough to win.
The well-executed effort led to a 45-42 win over NAIA powerhouse Indiana Wesleyan in NIU’s lone exhibition game of the season Monday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
“I was really happy with how we played defense,” Bennett said. “We played good defense, especially at the end over the last two minutes or so. We just didn’t let them get any easy looks at the basket and stayed at home on the threes. We knew they needed a three on the last possession and we did a nice job of contesting.”
A defensive first half in which both teams shot under 30 percent from the field left NIU with a 20-17 lead. But the Huskies picked up their rhythm on offense in the second half and kept hounding IWU’s shooters
The Wildcats, who have gone 209-36 since 2005-06 under head coach Steve Brooks and have appeared in the NAIA Elite Eight each of the last three seasons, are known for their three-point shooting and torched NIU last season in an exhibition game by shooting 64.3 percent from the arc for a 61-52 win.
NIU held IWU to a 2-for-11 performance from 3-point land and kept the Wildcats to a 33.3 overall shooting percentage in the second half, while the Huskies shot 10-for-22 (45.5 percent) in the second stanza.
Sophomore Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) led the NIU attack in the second half with eight of her 12 points on the night and hit two clutch free throws late in the game with NIU clinging to a 43-42 lead with 21 seconds left. She was 4-for-4 from the charity stripe on the night.
“We are young, very young – we can only go up and keep getting better with the more experience we get,” said Bennett of a team that features nine underclassmen. “I like how we picked up the pace offensively in the second half with more movement that helped us get easier looks.”
After not capitalizing on turnovers in the first half, NIU held a 14-3 edge in points off turnovers in the second half and dominated the paint for a 16-4 advantage. The Huskies also held a 36-29 rebounding edge, which led to a 10-4 second chance points advantage.
Sophomore Jenna Thorp (Hinckley, Ill./Hinckley-Big Rock) had twice as many rebounds as any other Huskie with 11, adding eight points to boot. Senior Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) had five rebounds to go with nine points and sophomore Wisconsin-transfer Jada Buggs (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) had five rebounds as well, totaling six points in her first game in a Huskie uniform.
NIU opened up the game with a 5-0 start and didn’t let IWU score until nearly three minutes into the game.
But the opposite happened to start the second half as the Wildcats used a 7-2 run over the first four minutes to take a 26-22 lead. NIU countered over the next three minutes with a run of its own, scoring eight straight points to reclaim a 30-26 edge.
The Huskies maintained the lead and would jump out in front by five two different times, but the Wildcats closed within one thanks to a three-point play with 2:44 left. However, the NIU defense forced three missed shots and three turnovers over the last 2:44 of the game and IWU never scored again, missing a contested three-pointer with three seconds left after Corral’s free throws.
The Huskies officially begin the regular season with the Preseason WNIT as the Huskies face Iowa in Iowa City at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9. NIU’s first home game begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21, versus North Dakota State.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.