Turnovers and the inability to score down the stretch, cost the Northern Illinois University women’s basketball team as it fell to Eastern Michigan, 84-77, in the first round of the 2018 Mid-American Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament at the NIU Convocation Center Monday night.
“That one stings a little bit,” said NIU head coach Lisa Carlsen. “You never want to see seasons end, but you’ve got to give Eastern a lot of credit. They had some kids step up and make some plays, especially in the fourth quarter. They played a heck of a ballgame.
“I’m really proud of the way we fought. I thought our intensity and focus was good tonight, but we just had some things not go our way and unfortunately ran into an Eastern team that played a really good ballgame.”
With the Huskies (15-15) leading, 77-75, with 1:15 left to play, Sasha Dailey hit a three pointer with a minute left in the game to give Eastern Michigan (11-19) a one-point lead with a minute left to play. It was a lead the Eagles would not relinquish.
NIU was unable to get back the lead as the Huskies turned the ball over on their next three possessions in the final minute of the game. That minute scoreless stretch was part of a four-minute drought in which the Huskies didn’t make a field goal. NIU scored four points in the final 4:18 of the game, with all four points coming from the free throw line.
“I think we had some good looks and the ball just didn’t fall,” Carlsen said. “And the game is like that. It’s a game of runs and anytime you get a good look, that’s what you’re hoping for. Nine times out of 10 these guys are going to knock them down and sometimes the ball rolls off the rim. You just kind of have to live with that a little bit and hope you can get more stops in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t so much our execution as it was the ball just didn’t fall.”
The Huskies committed 19 turnovers in the contest and Eastern Michigan capitalized, scoring 21 points off turnovers.
Three Huskies finished in double digits with Courtney Woods (Brisbane, Australia/St. Margaret’s Anglican School) leading the way with ninth double-double of the season. The Huskie junior finished with a game-high 24 points and hauled in 12 rebounds.
In her final game as a Huskie, Kelly Smith (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) finished her Huskie career with 20 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. Mikayla Voigt (Slinger, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) added 18 points, dished out six assists and grabbed four rebounds.
The Huskies did win the battle on the glass, outrebounding Eastern Michigan, 44-29, with Ally May (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) leading the way. May was dominant on the boards, grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds, including a career-best seven offensive rebounds. She also added six points.
NIU opened up the game with 9-2 run and ended the first quarter with a 20-16 advantage. The Eagles responded in the second quarter, outscoring the Huskies 21-18 and NIU took a 38-37 lead into halftime.
The second half was a see-saw affair as the game saw nine ties and 13 lead changes. The Huskies’ largest lead of the second half was five, 52-47, with 5:25 left in the third quarter. However, the Eagles took a 60-59 lead into the fourth.
NIU retook the lead at the start of the fourth, but was never able to pull away in the final frame. Their largest lead of the fourth was two points. Eastern Michigan kept up the pressure the final 10 minutes of the game and was able to advance to Cleveland.