Northern Illinois put on a furious rally in the second half to overcome an 18-point deficit but did not hang on to the lead as Eastern Michigan earned a 67-62 win on Thursday evening at the Convocation Center.
The defending Mid-American Conference Tournament champion Eagles (5-15, 3-4 MAC) extended their winning streak over the Huskies (5-15, 0-7 MAC) to eight games overall and eight games at home.
“The mental toughness for this team continues to be a battle,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett. “That stretch where we caved in – they killed us in transition and inside. We had no energy defensively. But we did not quit and came back. We did a nice job but we didn’t play like that long enough.”
The Huskies led by as much as six points and held the lead for over 13 minutes in the first half but a late 10-0 run by the Eagles erased NIU’s lead. EMU ended the last five minutes of the half on a 17-2 run to take a 35-26 lead into the locker room.
If it weren’t for 12 NIU turnovers to EMU’s four, the Huskies’ 47.6 field goal and 44.4 three-point percentages in the first half could have give a more favorable score. But the Eagles’ full-court pressure and trapping zone caused ball security issues for NIU.
Another huge run by EMU opened up the game in the second half. After NIU cut the deficit to five, a 13-0 spurt by the Eagles made it an 18-point game, 51-33, with 15:07 left. However, NIU did not fade, and Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) took over to score 15 of her 23 points in the second half.
“Tay has been our most consistent performer by far,” said Bennett. “She stepped up with scoring and defended. I’m really pleased with how she’s played.”
The senior nailed three triples during a 24-5 run, the last of which tied the game at 56-56. Then Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) sank one of two free throws to give NIU its first lead since the Eagles grabbed a 25-24 lead with 2:41 left in the first half.
EMU countered with back-to-back baskets to regain the lead, but again, Taylor rose to the occasion with another three to tie the game at 60-60 with 3:59 remaining.
A thorn in NIU’s side all night, Bianca Cage quickly countered on the ensuing possession with a three of her own to give EMU a lead it did not relinquish. Cage also scored 23 and connected on six of 10 threes, each seemingly sucking the wind out of NIU’s sails.
The Huskies had two chances in the closing minute of the game to extend it, but Taylor just missed on a three and Jada Buggs (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial/Wisconsin) missed on a jumper in the paint. EMU’s Desyree Thomas was fouled after the Eagles corralled the ball and calmly sank two free throws with four seconds left to seal it.
Taylor finished one point shy of tying her career high as she was 5-for-10 from the three-point line. She also had a career-best four blocks.
The Huskies return home to face Miami (Ohio) at 1 p.m. CT Sunday, Feb. 3, in their lone scheduled TV appearance. The game will be produced by SportsTime Ohio and will also air on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and ESPN3.com.