DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's basketball team's usual tough defense was not at the top of its game as Eastern Michigan shot 44.8 percent from the field to earn a 77-57 win on Saturday afternoon in a Mid-American Conference West Division game at the NIU Convocation Center.
Both teams entered the game on winning streaks -- EMU had won six in a row, NIU three in a row -- but it was the Eagles (19-7, 11-2 MAC) who kept theirs alive as they picked up their seventh straight win over NIU (12-13, 6-7 MAC).
"We battled a lot of adversity today," said NIU Associate Head Coach Marsha Frese, who filled in as acting head coach for an under-the-weather Kathi Bennett. "We knew it was going to be a challenge. I felt like our kids battled. Eastern is a very good team and we were prepared for the things they threw at us. We just need to do a better job of minimizing turnovers."
The Eagles entered the game averaging 70.8 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from the field. Against an NIU defense that entered the game allowing 58.2 points per game and a 37 percent opponent field goal percentage, EMU's offense managed to operate above its average game to become just the sixth team all season to score in the 70s versus NIU and the seventh to shoot above 40 percent.
The Eagles did most of their damage as a result of NIU's 20 turnovers. While EMU took care of the ball with 12 turnovers, NIU's miscues allowed the Eagles to get out and run in transition for a 14-0 edge in fast break points. Overall, the NIU turnovers led to a 23-10 advantage in points off turnovers for the Eagles.
The main player the Huskies struggled to contain was the nation's second leading scorer Tavelyn James. The senior entered the game averaging 24.6 points per game and scored 29 points, which is the third highest total NIU has surrendered to a player this season.
"Tavelyn James is going to get her shots," said Frese. "We tried to cover her and did a better job in the second half of making her more uncomfortable. Satavia Taylor's length worked well on her. In hindsight, I think we should have given Satavia more time on her earlier in the game."
Consequently, the lack of rhythm to the Huskie offense led to a 34.8 shooting percentage. Nearly half of NIU's points came from senior Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston), who went off against her former teammates for a career-high 26 points. 14 of the points came from a near-flawless and career-best effort from the free throw line as she missed only one attempt. Davis' scoring performance was the most any Huskie has scored this season and the most since Marke Freeman's 26 versus Bowling Green on February 1, 2011.
With NIU up 16-15 at the 11:39 mark of the first half, EMU went on a quick 7-0 run over the next 2:40 that would spark a 27-12 run to finish the half.
The Huskies bounced back to start the second half with a Davis layup and Jenna Thorp (Hinckley, Ill./Hinckley-Big Rock) floater, forcing an EMU timeout just 55 seconds into the half. But the Eagles responded in a huge way with a 12-0 run to take a commanding 54-32 lead with 14:23 left.
From there, NIU would get no closer than 17 the rest of the way.
With six wins in their last nine games, the Huskies still are in fifth place overall in the MAC standings as a result of Akron's loss today to Bowling Green. Over the final three games of the regular season, NIU still has a good chance to lock up one of the No. 5-8 seeds to guarantee a first round MAC Tournament home game. Due to Miami's (Ohio) win over Buffalo today, the Huskies are now three games behind the RedHawks for a possible chance at the No. 4 seed, which would guarantee a bye into the MAC quarterfinals.
The Huskies embark upon a mini, two-game road trip starting with a 6 PM CT at Central Michigan on Wednesday, February, 22.