Northern Illinois went toe-to-toe with Central Michigan, the defending Mid-American Conference champion, for a full 40 minutes at McGuirk Arena Wednesday night.
While the Huskies (6-8, 2-2 MAC) disrupted the Chippewas’ (8-8, 4-0 MAC) high-powered offense in the game, it was CMU’s Crystal Bradford who would come up big as she scored 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Central Michigan to a 65-60 victory.
Juniors Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) and Danny Pulliam (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) carried the Huskies as Augusta recorded her fourth double-double this season with 17 points, tying her career-high, and 10 rebounds. Pulliam scored a new career-high of 18 points, going 7-of-11 from the field and going 4-of-6 from behind the arc.
“We fought right until the end against a very good team at their place,” said head coach Kathi Bennett. “We have to learn from this experience and improve upon on that Saturday at Miami. I thought we played well enough to win tonight. but when you have a player like Bradford on the other side of the floor, it’s going to be tough. She really helped Central Michigan out tonight.”
NIU held CMU to its second-lowest scoring performance of the season to date. Only No. 2 Duke and Kansas limited the Chips to fewer points in a game (63). Notre Dame and Marquette held Central Michigan to fewer points at halftime as the Irish and Golden Eagles held the Chips to 28 points at halftime.
The Huskies opened the game on an 11-2 run and capitalized on their opportunities early at the free throw line and off of turnovers.
After CMU took a 25-24 lead with 5:14 remaining, freshman Ally Lehman (Nineveh, Ind./Indian Creek) put the Huskies right back on top with three-pointer from the corner to NIU back in charge, 27-24. Northern Illinois would carry a 32-29 into the halftime locker room against the defending MAC Champions.
Both Augusta and Pulliam reached double-figures at halftime as they scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Central Michigan again began to rally in the half but the Huskies kept the game within reach as CMU’s biggest lead of the game was only six points with 7:56 remaining in the game. The Huskies put the pressure on CMU by forcing them to foul in the second half.
Playing most of the second half with three fouls on her, Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) was key to NIU’s ball movement on the offensive end of the floor. The junior guard, who entered the game averaging 20.7 points per game in the Mid-American Conference, scored 10 points and dished a game-high four assists.
With three minutes remaining, Northern Illinois was back within two points as Jazmine Harris (West Allis, Wis./Heritage Christian) made one of her two free throw attempts.
CMU would then take its lead back up to two possessions but was without Bradford on the floor as she was cramping late in the game. After a layup by Pulliam with 25.8 seconds left and a three-pointer from the corner by Ashley Sneed (Harvey, Ill./Thornton) with 7.0 seconds left, Northern Illinois was back within three points, 63-60.
Central Michigan’s Jas’Mine Bracey ended the game with two-straight free throws to seal the game for the Chips, 65-60.
The Huskies were 8-of-18 in three-point shooting (.444) and held CMU to 4-of-21 (.190) shooting from behind the arc. At the free throw line, both teams missed and made their chances as they combined for a percentage of .522 at the charity stripe (19-of-32).
NIU also dished 14 assists in the game on their 22 field goals, while Central Michigan only recorded eight assists on their 25 field goals.
Bradford was 10-of-23 from the field and 6-of-10 from the free throw line to finish with a 27 point game. She recorded a first half double-double and finished the night with 15 rebounds. Bradford also had three blocks and five steals to lead CMU to victory.
Northern Illinois will return to action at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at Miami (Ohio) as the Huskies take on the Redhawks.