A tightly contested Mid-American Conference West Division tussle against the preseason league favorite Toledo left Northern Illinois one possession short in a 44-42 loss Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
The Huskies (5-14, 0-6 MAC) had two chances to win it in the last 20 seconds but failed to get a shot on rim against the stout Rockets (17-2, 5-1 MAC) defense.
“It was a very hard-fought game, very physical,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett. “I don’t think we could’ve played much better defensively against a good offensive team. I saw some positive signs on offense. We are really trying to spread the floor and trying to be active with our movement.”
Neither team imposed its will in the game as there were eight lead changes and six ties with neither team holding more than a five point lead. It was going to come down to who had the ball last. It was the Huskies who had that chance but missed on the opportunity to cash in.
Down 43-42 with just under a minute to play, NIU had a great chance to take the lead.
Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) had the ball in the mid-post with eight seconds left on the shot clock and a one-on-one situation against her defender, but she passed the ball out to Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart). NIU’s leading scorer was then forced to get a shot off between two taller defenders and came up short on a step-back jumper for a shot clock violation with 18 seconds left in the game.
After fouling to put the Rockets to the free throw line, Andola Dortch missed the first and made the second with 8.4 seconds remaining. The Huskies inbounded to Corral and the sophomore raced up the court to look for a scoring chance for her or teammate Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) but ended up picking up her dribble on the wing in a moment of hesitation, allowing her to be trapped and not get rid of the ball for a pass or shot as the clock expired.
“That last play was on me,” Bennett said. “We talked about having 8.4 seconds left during the timeout and to push the ball. I probably should’ve called timeout to run a play from the sideline with about five seconds left.”
Both teams shot 37 percent from the field and almost matched in turnovers (NIU 17, UT 16). However, Toledo capitalized more on the turnovers (13-7 edge in points off turnovers) and used its size advantage to rack up a 33-25 rebounding advantage, including a 9-4 edge on the offensive glass.
The size difference led to a 20-10 discrepancy in points in the paint and 6-0 edge in second chance points for the Rockets.
In the first half, Taylor’s 11 points helped the Huskies grab a 19-18 lead with 4:37 left. But on NIU’s next six possessions the Huskies had three missed shots and three turnovers while UT ran off six straight points. Taylor ended the drought with a left-handed floater in the lane as time expired to make it a 24-21 UT lead at half.
The Huskies were down by five early in the second half but never let Toledo separate any further and fought back to take the lead four different times, the last of which came on a three by Taylor with 1:54 left.
NIU’s 42-41 lead only lasted 14 seconds, though, as Inma Zanoguera slashed through the lane for a layup that proved to be the game-winner after NIU missed on its chances in the last minute of the game.
Taylor led the way for NIU with 14 points and was 3-for-4 on three-pointers. Corral also reached double figures with 13 and was 2-for-3 on threes. Overall, NIU was 6-for-9 from downtown, while Toledo was just 2-for-12.
The Rockets made up for it at the free throw line, however, going 8-for-14 while NIU was 4-for-6.
NIU, who held Toledo to its lowest point total of the season, continues play against the MAC West Division as the Huskies travel Thursday, Jan. 31, to Eastern Michigan for a 6 p.m. CT contest.