Feb. 20, 2010
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DeKALB – Ebony Ellis returned to the court after missing 10 of the last 11 games to give the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team the lift it needed to beat Toledo, 73-67, Saturday at the Convocation Center.
The Huskies (10-15, 4-9 Mid-American Conference) led by as many as 17 points in their win over the Rockets, who came into the game as the top team in the MAC. Toledo fell to 20-6 overall and 10-3 in league play with the loss, their largest of the conference season.
“This was a great win for us against a very good Toledo team,” NIU head coach Carol Owens said. “Our players showed up for 40 minutes which is what we have been looking for.”
Junior Marke Freeman (Sprinfield, Ill./Lanphier) played the best all-around game of her career. Freeman posted her second career double-double with 24 points, and 10 assists. She added six rebounds and three steals to outduel Toledo point guard Naama Shafir. Shafir, the leading assist-dealer in the MACalso tallied 10 dimes with 16 points. But Shafir hit just 2-of-10 shots from the field while contending with a variety of Huskie defenses.
The return of Ellis, who played for only the second time since a foot injury forced her to the sideline in early January, sparked the Huskies to their best performance of the season. NIU hit its first six shots from the field to build a nine point lead. The Rockets battled back to tie the game three times before halftime, but never captured a lead.
“We wanted to see what [Ebony] could do,” Owens said. “If she does nothing, her presence alone makes players come in the lane differently.”
Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop agreed that with Ellis in the line-up NIU looks much different.
“Having a chance to get Ellis back, even for 16 minutes, is big,” Cullop said. “They’re a very good team. I don’t think their record reflects what a strong team they are.”
Senior Kylie York (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) hit four three-pointers for 12 points in the opening period.
“[Kylie York] is one of the top five three-point shooters in the league,” Cullop said. “We talked about that in the pregame, that we didn’t want to give up the open look.”
Toledo also failed to handle the balance of the Huskie attack that saw five players score at least five points in the first stanza. Contributions from multiple players allowed NIU to take a 37-35 lead into the half, despite a last-second three-pointer by Toledo’s Jessica Williams.
Freeman blew the NIU lead up to 12 after knocking down a three-pointer, then getting steals and transition lay-ups on consecutive positions for seven points in 34 seconds. Freeman’s scoring punch added to a Huskie defense that allowed only one Toledo field goal over the opening 12 minutes of the second half. The combination yielded a 15-point Huskie lead that would balloon to as large as 17 with 5:32 left.
The Huskies held off a charging Toledo down the stretch to snap a three-game losing streak to the Rockets, and win their third home game in the last four tries.
Sophomore Sarah Rogers (Chicago, Ill./Marshall) joined Freeman and York in double figures with 14 points. Rogers added nine rebounds, four steals and two assists to her stat line while hitting an impressive 6-of-9 shots from the field.
Behind Shafir, Melissa Goodall finished the night with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Jessica Williams totaled 11 points to round out the Rockets’ top scorers.
The game was designated as NIU's WBCA Pink Zone contest. Players and fans wore pink attire to raise awareness and funds for the WBCA / Kay Yow Breast Cancer Research Fund. Fans can still contribute by calling the NIU women's basketball office at (815) 753-0586.
The Huskies are now just one game behind Ball State for the eighth seed in the MAC Tournament, which would give NIU a first-round home game. Northern Illinois holds the tiebreaker with the Cardinals, and the teams meet in Muncie, Ind. this Tuesday. The game can be heard live in DeKalb on 1360-AM WLBK and online through Huskie All-Access at www.niuhuskies.com.