Northern Illinois women’s basketball played sound defense at South Dakota State Tuesday night at Frost Arena, accumulating 12 steals and forcing 15 turnovers to keep within striking distance for 32 minutes against one of the top-mid major programs in the country.
However, a scoreless drought and foul trouble proved costly for the Huskies as they fell to the Jackrabbits, 67-50.
South Dakota State entered the game with consecutive wins against Mid-American Conference power Central Michigan and then-No. 12 Penn State.
“We played very good basketball tonight and our ball pressure was good. We did a good job of closing gaps but we had a few fouls late in the game because we were late closing down and we were over extended,” said head coach Kathi Bennett. “We were in their gaps and when (South Dakota State) put the ball down in the post, we had a rally to the ball mentality: dig it and do whatever you can to get it back. For 32 minutes we were on top of it.”
The electric atmosphere favored South Dakota State (9-4) early as they nailed two three-point shots early and climbed to a 10-2 lead. NIU (4-4) settled from there and attacked defensively and offensively, going on a 7-0 run to climb back within one, 10-9. A steal and a fastbreak layup by Alicia Johnson (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) forced SDSU to take a timeout and give the Huskies momentum.
Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart), who had three points halfway through the first period, turned it on with just under seven minutes to go in the half, nailing a three pointer, a jumper and putback on a missed layup in succession to cap another 7-0 run for NIU and give the team its first lead of the game, 23-22, with 4:28 remaining.
The first half ended in dramatic fashion as the Jackrabbits wound down the clock to get the last shot of the stanza with five seconds left on the clock. The NIU defense, which did not allow a Jacks field goal for 7:06 at point in the period, came through for the Huskies at the end by forcing a bad shot with time running out for one last chance.
Corral ran the ball down the court, hesitated a little bit and threw the ball up only two tenths of a second before the halftime buzzer went off to bring the Huskies back within three points at halftime, 30-27. Officials reviewed the shot on instant replay and determined the basket was good. The junior played in all 20 minutes of the half, scoring 12 points.
Northern Illinois accounted for five steals in the half and shot 12-of-26 (.462) while South Dakota State was only 9-of-28 (.321) from the field and 5-of-13 (.385) from behind the arc.
The Huskies attacked down low to start the second half, dishing to Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) and allowing the forward to work the paint with her hook shot, rattling two shots into the basket in the opening two minutes into the period.
While SDSU made its runs, NIU countered back with a three point shot from Alexis Lindstrom (Howards Grove, Wis./Howards Grove) , two clutch free throws apiece by Augusta and Danny Pulliam (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike), and a three point play on a layup and free throw by Johnson put NIU within six, 51-46.
In the final eight minutes however, the Huskies foul trouble began to work against them as the Jacks were in the bonus. South Dakota State closed the game 21-for-29 (.724) at the free throw line. SDSU made three shots from behind the arc as well to build its lead to 20 points with three minutes remaining.
Entering the game with zero points in her last four appearances, Johnson’s gritty play was key to NIU’s success tonight as she scored seven points and recorded three steals. Corral finished the night with 14 points, three assists, three steals and six rebounds, despite being in foul trouble for most of the second half. Augusta and Pulliam both closed with eight points apiece and helped Northern Illinois outscore South Dakota State in the paint, 24-20.
NIU returns to action at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, as it hosts Northern Iowa at the Convocation Center. For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.