DeKALB, Ill. - After being eliminated from last year's Mid-American Conference Tournament in the first round by Ohio, the Northern Illinois women's basketball team found revenge in a 50-46 win on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.
Last season, the Huskies (10-12, 4-6 MAC) took down Ohio (10-14, 3-7 MAC) in Athens during the regular season but were later ousted on their home floor in the postseason. The 72-66 Ohio win on March 6, 2011, ended NIU Head Coach Kathi Bennett's first campaign, and was not forgotten.
"We definitely wanted to get them," Bennett said.
Get them they did, as NIU took it straight to the paint for a 36-22 edge in points in the paint. Defensively, the Huskies hounded the Bobcats by allowing a 30.9 shooting percentage and pulling down 30 defensive boards -- Ohio only had 29 total rebounds.
"I'm really proud of our group and our defensive effort," Bennett said. "We really got after it for 40 minutes."
Trailing 7-6 early in the first half, the Huskies grabbed control of the game with a 12-4 run and would not surrender the lead the rest of the way. Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) sank a pair of free throws to cap the run for an 18-11 lead with 2:53 left, which would be the largest lead of the half.
Of NIU's 20-15 lead at the break, 16 points came inside the paint as the Huskies outshot Ohio 39.1-25.9 percent.
In the second half, an 8-0 NIU run put the Huskies up 10, 34-24, with 12:14 left for their largest lead of the game. During the run, the low-post duo of Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) and Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston) went to work with Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah), who finished the game with a career-high 11 rebounds and season-high eight assists. First, Shelton set up Jakubicek for a layup. Then, she set up Davis for an easy layup. After Davis converted a pair of free throws, Shelton set up Davis again for another layup.
Ohio quickly regrouped, however. The Bobcats went on a 6-0 run over the next two minutes to cut the deficit to four. A few minutes later, Ohio had the NIU lead down to three, 42-39, with 4:40 left.
As they had done all game, Davis and Jakubicek found a way to keep NIU on top. In a high-low set, Jakubicek led Davis to the basket with a pass for an easy layup to put the lead at five with 2:04 remaining.
"Claire and Kim were huge down the stretch," said Bennett. "I feel good and have a certain level of confidence when they are on the court. When Kim is squaring up, stepping through, and using the glass, I feel good. I felt like they helped each other out, which was really good to see."
From there, NIU went 5-for-6 from the free throw line to seal the game as Ohio was able to muster up just seven points over the final four minutes against NIU's stingy defense.
Both Davis and Jakubicek finished with 16 points. For Davis, the total tied a season high as she was 7-for-11 from the field. For Jakubicek, the double digit effort marks her eighth straight. Her 4-for-4 performance at the free throw line also extended her consecutive free throws made streak to 34.
The win improved NIU to 6-5 at home and 3-2 against the MAC East Division after going 1-4 against the MAC West during the first round of intra-division competition.
NIU will have a week between games as the Huskies will travel to Oxford, Ohio, on Saturday, Feb. 11, to take on Miami at 12 PM CT.