Final Score: DePaul 70, Northern Illinois 60

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January 3, 2004

(#20) DePAUL 70, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 60

Box Score

DeKALB, IL---Khara Smith scored 24 points and Jenni Dant added 20 to lead DePaul past Northern Illinois 70-60 in non-conference women's basketball action here Saturday (Jan. 3).

The Blue Demons---ranked 20th in the nation according to the latest Associated Press poll---scored the game's first 19 points and never looked back, improving to 12-1 overall with their fourth consecutive victory. Northern Illinois dropped to 5-6 despite 17 points from Joi Scott (Reynoldsburg, OH).

Ashley Luke canned a pair of three-pointers in the opening 3:23, fueling DU's quick start. The visitors hit seven of their first 10 shots---including four tri-lighters---before Jennifer Youngblood (Rock Island) finally got NIU on the scoreboard with a lay-up 5:31 into the contest. The Huskies chipped away at the lead, drawing to within eight points (24-16) on a Mary Basic (Lemont / Chicago Heights Marian Catholic) basket 6:18 before intermission and trailed 34-24 at the break.

"It appeared we didn't come out ready to play," Northern Illinois coach Carol Hammerle admitted. "Give credit to DePaul. They hit a lot of shots early. At halftime, we were within ten and felt like we had weathered the storm. Then we came out and executed much better in the second half."

The Blue Demons scored the first four points of the second half and built the cushion back to 16 points when Dant stole a Huskie pass and converted a lay-up to stake DePaul to a 45-29 advantage. Northern Illinois never got closer than ten in the second half, although Scott tallied 15 points in the final 20 minutes as NIU played DePaul to a 36-36 standoff after the break.

Youngblood did not play the final 10:18 after a collision in the lane which sent the Rock Island native crashing to the floor. She finished with six points and a game-high 13 rebounds while Secrest tallied 11 points for the Huskies. Freshman guard Stephanie Raymond (Rockford / Lutheran) had nine points plus a season-high ten rebounds, four assists and three steals, coming back from a six-turnover first half to commit just one miscue in the second period.

"In the first half, it was all the little mistakes that put us down by ten points. Turnovers and missed shots," Raymond said. "At halftime, my head was down, but my teammates picked me up and we worked our butts off in the second half."

DePaul, which led the nation in scoring averaging 93.8 points per game, managed to shoot just 34 percent (19-of-56) from the floor and missed its final 17 shots behind the arc to finish at four-of-23. But the Blue Demons made 28 of 33 free throws, including 18 of 22 in the second half. Dant made all 12 of her attempts.

Luke and Charlene Smith rounded out a quartet of double-figure scorers with 13 points apiece. The five Blue Demon starters scored all 70 of the team's points, with 24 of NIU's points coming from the reserves.

"What I was most pleased with was that we held them to 34 percent," Hammerle added. "DePaul is a good team, so that's a pretty amazing accomplishment. If we had done a better job taking care of the ball and not given up 33 free throws … You can't defend that. We played 35 good minutes tonight, if we could eliminate the first five."

Northern Illinois actually made six more baskets than DU, shooting 43.1 percent (25-of-58) from the floor including Scott's eight-of-14 performance. The Huskies also claimed a 41-32 rebounding edge but attempted only nine charity tosses---making seven---and committed a season-high 25 turnovers leading to 27 Blue Demon points.

NIU faces an unenviable task when the Mid-American Conference schedule starts on Wednesday (Jan. 7). The Huskies begin the 16-game league slate at Kalamazoo, MI, challenging defending league tournament champion Western Michigan in a 7 p.m. (EST) tip-off.

-30- -- Copy by Robert Hester