Against the Mid-American Conference’s top team, Central Michigan (17-9, 13-1 MAC), Northern Illinois (8-16, 4-10) put a fight worth note against the Chips as it traded nine leads and ties in the contest, but it wasn’t enough as the Huskies fell, 85-77.
Junior Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) scored her 1,000th career point and led NIU with 23 points in the effort.
Including Corral, five Huskies reached double figures as Jazmine Harris (West Allis, Wis./Heritage Christian) scored 14 points, while Jenna Thorp (Hinckley, Ill./Hinckley-Big Rock), Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) and Ashley Sneed (Harvey, Ill./Thornton) each scored 12 points. Central Michigan had four players score 10-or-more points, including the game’s leading scorer Crystal Bradford, who accounted for 29 points – 19 in the second half.
“Offensively I thought we did all right tonight. If we had completed a few more layups tonight, I think it would have gone a long way,” said head coach Kathi Bennett. “Defensively, we had a few breakdowns and allowed them to get to the line a lot but their a real good team; they’re MAC West champions and there’s a reason for that. They’re great in transition, and Bradford is one of the best players in the country.”
The first half showed shades of the Jan. 9 first meeting between the Huskies and Chippewas in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., as both teams ran up and down the floor until NIU slowed things down at its own will. Between the 14:30 and 10:22 marks, CMU missed nine-straight field goals and allowed NIU to go on a 9-0 run.
While Northern Illinois shot 12-of-38 (.320) from the field, it was a perfect 1.000 from the free throw line, taking nine shots from the charity stripe. Central Michigan only made it to the line four times in the half, making only two shots.
CMU’s second made shot from the line broke a 33-33 tie as Bradford hit her second of two shots with 1.5 seconds left in the period, allowing the Chips to take their second lead of the game from the Huskies, 34-33.
Corral finished the half with 11 points to lead all scorers on 5-of-13 shooting, while Bradford added 10 points to pace CMU scorers.
Corral entered the game four points shy of 1,000 career points, reached the mark 2:44 into the half as she converted two layups to eclipse the mark. She became the 26th player all-time to reach the mark and the first since Marke Freeman in 2011, who coincidentally also accomplished the feat against the Chippewas.
NIU led all the specialty point categories in the half, most notably in second chance points, 8-2, and off of turnovers, 14-6. Both teams combined for 34 points in the paint, with the Huskies pacing the half with 20.
In the second half, CMU attacked the post and forced the NIU defenders to close tight in an attempt to draw fouls on the Huskies. After only four attempts at the line in the first half, Central Michigan went 17-of-26 at the charity stripe in the second half. NIU went to line five times in the second period, converting 4-of-5 attempts.
Central Michigan was 3-for-4 in free throw attempts after converting field goals when fouled, while NIU was 1-for-1 in the second period.
The Huskies continued to attack the paint in the half and found success as it closed the contest with 40 points underneath the basket, their highest total since recording 42 versus Northern Iowa on Dec. 21. As a result, NIU recorded a season-high in field goals (31) and its highest total in a half this season (19).
After trading the lead five times in the opening six and a half minutes, the Chippewas overtook the Huskies at the 13:03 mark for the final time in the game. While Northern brought the score back within one point 33 seconds later, it was unable to overcome the deficit as Bradford attacked and got to the free throw line.
Harris was flawless at the free throw line, going 6-for-6 and adding four field goals to fall just one point shy of her career-mark, 15 points. Thorp was one rebound shy of her third double-double of the season as she scored 12 and pulled down nine rebounds, two off of the offensive glass. Augusta converted 5-of-7 attempts from the field to reach double figures, while Sneed was 5-for-8, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc to drop 12.
It was the first time since the Jan. 4 Mid-American Conference opener versus Ohio that NIU had five players reach double-figures, however, it was the first time that two players from the bench breached the 10-point barrier. It was also the Huskies eighth half this season in which they scored 40-or-more points, last doing so Feb. 19 at Akron.
Corral’s 23 point night marked the sixth game this season, and the second-straight game, in which she surpassed the 20-point mark. Bradford closed the night 10-of-16 from the line and 9-of-19 from the field, while Kirby Tamm, Jas’Mine Bracey and Niki DiGuelo scored 12, 11 and 10, respectively. NIU was outscored in the second half, 51-44.
Northern Illinois will return to the court Thursday, Feb. 27, when it hosts Toledo in Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day at the NIU Convocation Center. Tipoff is slated for 11:30 a.m.