DeKALB, Ill. - Using momentum from a 45-point second half in a win at Akron Wednesday, the Northern Illinois women's basketball team continued its stellar offensive execution in a 66-55 wire-to-wire victory over Kent State on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
"I'm really proud of the team," said NIU Head Coach Kathi Bennett. "For us, to play with a lead and maintain it the whole game is a really positive sign."
The win continues an upward trend for the Huskies (9-11, 3-5 MAC) lately as they have won three of their last four games since opening the Mid-American Conference slate 0-4. Fresh off its first win at Akron since 2006, NIU earned its first win over the Golden Flashes (5-13, 4-4 MAC) since 2008, ending a four-game slide against KSU, who entered the contest on a three-game winning streak.
The triumph also ended a three-game slide at home for NIU and marked the fourth time this season that the Huskies have won back-to-back games -- something that was accomplished only three times all of last season.
Carrying over the good vibes of their second half at Akron, the Huskies opened up on fire against KSU. NIU hit each of its first five three-pointers, including three from Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah). With 4:27 left in the half, the Huskies had built the largest lead they would hold all game, 32-15, as they were 12-for-26 from the field with 12 assists and just two turnovers.
"I felt like we enjoyed and had fun playing," Bennett said. "We've been consistent in practice since the Buffalo game with our energy and effort. Sometimes you really have to go through the valley before you wake up. [The hot start] loosened us up and we could just play after that.
"We've executed well on offense that last few games. We've attacked, read the defense, shared the ball -- we are playing good basketball on both ends right now."
However, over the final 4:27 of the first half, KSU outscored NIU 12-0 to go into the locker room down by only five, 32-27.
Needing to reestablish control of the game, NIU came out of the locker room hitting four of its first seven shots during an 11-5 run in the half's first five minutes. The key shot during the run was a 27-foot three-pointer from the top of the key that touched nothing but net as Shelton had to put up a shot as the shot clock was about to expire.
"I told them in the locker room that we must win the first four minutes -- that first stretch until the media timeout," Bennett said. "We had to come out with more energy and more effort."
With a comfortable cushion once again, NIU was able to do what it did at Akron -- put the game away on the free throw line -- as KSU never got closer than five points. The Huskies went 14-for-18 from the charity stripe over the game's final 15 minutes.
Free throws proved to be a significant factor for the second straight game for NIU as the Huskies were 18-for-22 on the day, while KSU was 4-for-8. Both Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) and Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) were a perfect 4-for-4. Jakubicek's perfect run at the free throw line is now at 27 in a row.
While KSU narrowly outshot NIU (44.0 % - 40.8 %), the Huskies work on the boards did not leave room for error. NIU held a 39-33 edge in boards and allowed just two offensive rebounds to KSU, grabbing 10 on its own end for a 9-3 second chance points advantage.
NIU's three-point display was crucial as well. The Huskies tallied season-highs in made threes and percentage, going 8-for-14 (57.1 %). Shelton led the way with a 5-for-10 performance en route to a season- and game-high 23 points.
The rookie duo of Corral and Jakubicek also scored in double figures. Corral had 14 points, along with eight rebounds and three assists. Jakubicek had 13 points, adding eight rebounds and four assists.
After going 1-4 during the first run-through of the MAC West Division, NIU is now 2-1 during its six-game tour of the East. The Huskies next hit the road to face Bowling Green at 6 PM CT on Wednesday, Feb. 1.