DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's basketball team dropped its Mid-American Conference opener to Central Michigan 86-67 on Thursday night at the NIU Convocation Center. The Huskies (6-7, 0-1 MAC), who entered the game playing stellar defense, were unable to cool the high-scoring Chippewas (9-6, 1-0 MAC) as they gave up the most points they have all year and allowed the highest shooting percentage (51.6) for an opponent since allowing Illinois State to shoot .529 on Nov. 26.
Over the past seven games, the NIU defense had not allowed an opponent to shoot above 38.3 percent and had not given up more than 72 points. Both defensive feats came to an end against the Chippewas, who entered the game averaging 71.6 points and shooting 39 percent from the field.
When NIU was back on defense and set it was hard for CMU to score. But what led to CMU's offensive outburst were 18 NIU turnovers to the Chippewas' eight. The discrepancy gave CMU a chance to run in transition and the Chips took advantage by racking up a 29-5 edge in points off turnovers and 17-2 edge in fast break points.
"We had five consecutive turnovers at one point; it's the little things -- we have to meet the pass, getter a better angle, use a dribble entry when they are denying," said NIU Head Coach Kathi Bennett. "I know it sounds crazy but we are thankful to have this to learn from. If we can do that, then we'll be better. If we can't learn from this game, we are going to be hurting. We just have to have better recognition and compete to start the game. That shouldn't happen."
After CMU took a slim 36-32 lead into the locker room at the half, the Chippewas opened the second half on a 14-9 run and had answers to every NIU response. First, NIU closed within four, 50-46, after a Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) jumper. But CMU came back with two straight layups to keep the Huskies afar.
Then, the Huskies scored three straight baskets and came within two points, 54-52, following another Taylor jumper. However, after three CMU free throws, the Chippewas would respond quickly by stealing the ball three times in a row for three fast break layups. The sequence ignited CMU to finish the game on a 32-15 run and took the wind out of NIU's sails.
"If we can value the ball and limit our turnovers, I think the way we play defense we will always give ourselves a chance," said Bennett. "We have to take care of that."
CMU's ninth win in its last 11 games dropped NIU's all-time MAC opener record to 6-13 and dropped Bennett to 0-2.
Taylor paced the Huskies with a career-high 17 points.
On deck for the Huskies is a trip to Ypsilanti, Mich., to take on Eastern Michigan on Sunday, January 8, at 1 PM CT.