Feb. 26, 2006
DeKALB, IL -- Despite settting school records from beyond the arch, the Northern Illinois University women's basketball squad wasn't quite able to pull off a come-from-behind victory over Western Michigan University as the Broncos held on for an 89-86 victory Sunday (Feb. 26) at the NIU Convocation Center.
Western Michigan, which locked up the West Division's No. 2 slot for a first-round bye in the Mid-American Conference postseason, improved to 10-5 in league play and evened its season ledger at 13-13 heading into a Wednesday home finale against the University of Toledo. For Northern Illinois, the Senior Day farewell was spoiled and the Huskies dipped to 11-15 overall and 7-8 in league play, putting NIU into a tie for fourth with Central Michigan University.
A victory in Tuesday night's regular-season finale at Ball State University or else a Huskie loss combined with a CMU loss on Wednesday night at Eastern Michigan University, would mean NIU gains a first-round homecourt game on March 4. However, a Northern Illinois loss combined with a Chippewa upset at EMU would vault Central Michigan into that position while the Huskies would journey to the East Division's No. 4 finisher.
"Obviously it was a very important game for us record-wise," WMU coach Ron Stewart said. "Northern Illinois is a ballclub that has really improved throughout the year. We did some good things, but the best thing we did was hold on. It was a solid game by two teams that came down to the wire. I'm just thankful we were able to sustain it and get the win."
Western Michigan, which led 38-33 at intermission, flirted with double-figure leads up to as much as 12 points throughout the majority of the second half. The Broncos were ahead by 11, 81-70, with 2:53 to play when Stephanie Raymond (Rockford / Lutheran) answered with one of NIU's multitude of three-pointers to spark a rally. Raymond drained another trey and was fouled with 45 seconds remaining. Although she missed the potential four-point play, she got the ball back and was fouled going for a follow-up. When she missed the second of those two attempts, the junior snared another offensive board and was fouled again on a putback try.
After making those two attempts, NIU was within three at 84-81. Casey Rost made two free throws to give Western Michigan an 86-81 advantage only to have Raymond nail another trifecta for an 86-84 tally. Rost made the first of two free throws, but missed the second setting the stage for more Northern Illinois opportunities.
However, the Huskies missed a potential game-tying three and even through Jennifer Uptmor (Centerville, OH) was fouled with 13 seconds left, the Huskie senior was unable to convert at the line. Despite getting yet another opportunity off an offensive rebound, Northern Illinois committed a turnover and Rost made two free throws with eight seconds left to ice the win at 89-84. Uptmor hit one final field goal at the buzzer to account for the final tally.
"I thought it was a good game from a spectator point of view. We certainly had our opportunities throughout the game," NIU coach Carol Owens said. "What really hurt us were their points-off-turnovers, those were crucial, and our inability to hit some key free throw throws."
Western Michigan enjoyed a 21-4 advantage in points-off-turnovers with the Broncos giving up the ball only 11 times compared to the Huskies' 19 turnovers. Although WMU hit .707 at the free throw line (29-of-41), Northern Illinois was just .613, making 19-of-31.
"I thought if we could've just hit five more of those free throws, we'd have been in good shape. If you'd have said we'd get 86 points, I'd of thought we'd have a win. We shot the ball fairly well, but we didn't get the stops we really needed. I'm disappointed with the loss and that we came up short, but I am pleased with how we fought back," Owens added.
Western Michigan's Rost paced the Broncos with a team-best 24 points that included 6-of-10 FGs and 12-of-14 at the charity stripe. Maria Jillian added 17 while Carrie Moore finished with 16 and a team-best seven rebounds.
Raymond finished with 6-of-8 from beyond the arch as part of her 8-of-13 field goal performance along with hitting 6-of-9 at the foul lline for a game-high 28 points that was accompanied by a game-best nine rebounds plus seven assists. Kristin Wiener (Apple Valley, MN / Academy of Holy Angels) was next with 19 while Mary Basic (Lemont / Chicago Heights Marian Catholic) and Whitney Lowe (Bushnell / Bushnell-Prairie City) both added 11 with Jessie Wilcox (Oshkosh, WI / West) just missing twin digits with nine. The latter three each hit a trio of three-pointers as Northern Illinois set new team standards for treys made (15) and attempted (29).
The 15 three-pointers replace the previous record of 11 made against the University of Akron in a MAC Tournament game in Cleveland, OH (3-6-01). The 29 attempts erase the old mark of 26 set at home against Cleveland State University (2-25-93).
Northern Illinois closes the regular season on Tuesday with the 6 p.m. (CST) visit to Ball State.
(For further information, please contact Steve Nemeth) --NIU--