Northern Illinois nearly overcame an 11-point first half deficit while not leading the entire game, but just missed on three shots in the final minute of the game to tie or take the lead in a 54-49 loss to Valparaiso.
The Crusaders (5-8) earned only their second win in 21 all-time meetings over the Huskies (5-8), ending a five-game losing streak in the series on Saturday afternoon at the ARC.
“I give a lot of credit to Valpo,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett. “They definitely wanted it a lot more than we did and competed when it counted. I thought we got out-hustled, out-played, out-coached – they just really had a lot of energy and wanted it.
“We wanted to attack inside. We started out lethargic, coming out not ready to go. We dug ourselves a hole. But we had opportunities down the stretch to take the game.”
In both teams’ last game before beginning conference play it was the Crusaders who forced the issue from the get-go, leaving NIU to play from behind all game. Valpo used solid ball movement and stellar rebounding in the first half to build an 11-point lead that was whittled down to five at half, 31-26. Meanwhile, NIU shot the ball very well – 54.5 percent – but 10-5 turnover and 8-2 offensive rebounding deficits played against the Huskies.
Valparaiso capitalized on the deficits by holding an 11-2 edge in second chance points and 7-2 lead in points off turnovers, despite NIU’s defense holding the Crusaders to a 36.4 shooting percentage.
The second half was a different story for the Huskies as they gave up zero second chance points and scored nine while turning the ball over only three times to Valpo’s six.
Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola), who led NIU with 16 points – 10 in the second half, came out hot scoring NIU’s first seven points to make it a three-point game four minutes into the second half. A few minutes later, a three by Jada Buggs (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial/Wisconsin) put NIU within two, 40-38, with 10:34 remaining.
But then two straight back-breaking threes by Valpo’s Charae Richardson pushed the lead back to six points two minutes later.
NIU remained resilient, though, and countered with an offensive rebound and layup from Alicia Johnson (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) and a three by Taylor to climb within one point, 46-45, with 6:41 left. The Huskies then missed on four shots to take the lead before the Crusaders scored again.
Down the stretch of the game Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) made a spinning baseline jumper to make it a one-point game again, 50-49, with 1:56 left. The basket was her only of the second half after scoring seven in the first half in front of her hometown crowd that made the short trip down the road.
After a defensive stop, the Huskies had Corral wide open in the corner with 45 seconds left as her defender fell, but the ball rimmed out. Johnson grabbed the rebound and found Jenna Thorp (Hinckley, Ill./Hinckley-Big Rock) on the wing. However, Thorp drove to the basket out of control and turned the ball over.
Following a pair of made free throws by Valpo on an NIU quick foul, Taylor missed just short on a three to tie it with 11 seconds left.
Next up NIU opens Mid-American Conference play on Thursday, Jan. 10 at 6 p.m. CT in Buffalo, N.Y. against the Buffalo Bulls. The game will end the Huskies’ season long five-game road trip, which they are 1-3 on thus far.