DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's basketball team pulled off a dramatic 53-50 win over Southern Illinois Tuesday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
Down 50-49 with 13 seconds left in the game and NIU (3-3) in a bit of a panic as the shot clock was winding down, Alicia Johnson (Harvey, Ill./Thornton) got the ball at the top of the key, drove left, and put up a shot from the left block over SIU's two tallest defenders that kissed the glass and rolled in. The incredible shot just beat the shot clock and gave NIU a 51-50 lead, sending the Huskie faithful into an uproar.
SIU (2-3) then missed a close shot with three seconds left and Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) grabbed the rebound, getting fouled immediately. The rookie would calmly sink both free throws to give NIU a 53-50 lead.
With two seconds left, the Salukis called a timeout to attempt to force overtime similar to how NIU won in Carbondale last year. On Nov. 19, 2010, Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah) gave the Huskies a one-point win with a halfcourt buzzer-beater on the Salukis' home court. However, SIU would not return the favor as Kim Davis blocked a halfcourt attempt to seal NIU's fifth straight win over the Salukis, and sixth straight in DeKalb.
"It wasn't pretty, we made a ton of mistakes, but we do have to learn how to win games," said NIU Head Coach Kathi Bennett. "And we did win it, somehow, someway. We found a way and that's a good sign for us. We had four freshman on the floor [most of the time] with either Court or Kim. They found a way to win."
Helping NIU to victory was a stingy defense that allowed SIU to shoot just 27.9 percent from the field. The Huskies also helped themselves out by holding a 49-34 edge in rebounding, led by Davis' 13, seven of which came on the offensive glass.
"Our defense at the end kept contesting shots," Bennett said. "We did a good job of getting on the defensive glass. Kim was crazy tonight. She had 13 rebounds. That's the difference. Little things like that mean a lot."
Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) led the Huskies in scoring with a season-high 17 on 8-for-12 shooting. The freshman also added six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block.
Fellow freshman Augusta was nearly as good, totaling a season-best 14 points, four assists, four rebounds, and one block in 29 minutes, the most she's played this season. She was also a stellar 8-for-9 from the charity stripe.
"The talent [for both freshmen] is there," said Bennett. "I've seen the offensive talent and potential from Natecia in practice. We just have to get her more consistent [in games]. That's our whole team. We just need to be more consistent with things; learn how to play together."
NIU had to fight the whole game in a contest that featured nine ties and 10 lead changes. Trailing 16-12 in the first half, the Huskies mounted a 7-3 run that was fueled by a three-point play from Augusta. Tied at 19, the teams would exchanged points until a Corral free throw and Sneed bank shot put NIU ahead 26-23 with 1:05 left in the half. SIU then answered with 11 seconds left to cut the NIU lead to one point, 26-25, at the half.
The Salukis came out of the locker room with an added energy, using an 8-2 run to take a 33-28 lead three and a half minutes into the second half. The Huskies responded with a 12-3 spurt thanks in part to a pair of slashing layups by Corral.
A few minutes later, Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) scored on a smooth left-handed layup t0 give NIU its largest lead of the game, 49-41, with 3:12 left. But SIU would not go away as the Salukis went on a 9-0 run that was capped by a three-point play from Cartaesha Macklin, setting up NIU's spectacular finish.
With school finals next week, the Huskies will have an 11-day layoff before returning to action at Chicago State on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 2 PM CT.