Koker, Davis push Huskies to eighth straight win

NIU remains unbeaten since season opener


Sean Reed

(From left) NIU senior guard Chelby Koker, sophomore forward Laura Nickel, a pair of Western Illinois University players and senior forward A’Jah Davis play during NIU’s most recent home game, a 100-61 win over WIU on Nov. 17. Koker and Davis combined for 38 points in NIU’s 67-56 win over Lindenwood University on Monday. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Reporter

NIU women’s basketball has wrapped up its five-game road trip undefeated after prevailing 67-56 in its first ever meeting with Lindenwood University Monday, pushing the Huskies to their eighth straight win.

A fourth quarter offensive stall by the Huskies turned what was early NIU domination into a close finish as NIU (8-1) handed the Lions (0-8) their eighth straight defeat. Senior guard Chelby Koker and senior forward A’Jah Davis combined for 38 points as the Huskies pushed themselves to an 8-1 record to start the 2022-23 campaign.

“I think we definitely had our struggles tonight (Monday) but we persevered and got the win that we definitely needed…but as we look back and watch this, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of things that we’re going to see and want to do better,” Koker said. “We need to get better at distancing the lead, especially late in the game.”

Holding their largest lead of the game up 21 points near the end of the third quarter, the Huskies saw Lindenwood chip the margin to single digits as momentum seemed to shift in the Lions’ favor.

Head coach Lisa Carlsen said in a postgame radio interview that she wondered when her team would make a stretch and create more separation. Instead, Lindenwood brought the score to as close as six points.

“Credit Lindenwood,” Carlsen said. “They did a good job of continuing to play hard, mixing it up, making things difficult at times.”

Seniors step up

Carlsen also praised the performance of Koker, who led NIU in scoring, shooting efficiency and steals.

“She really did what we needed her to do at certain times when it seemed like nothing else could really go right,” Carlsen said.

Koker, last week’s Mid-American Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Week, dominated the box score with a 26 points, tying a season-high, on 7-for-13 shooting from the field. Twelve of Koker’s points came off near perfect shooting (12-for-13) from the charity stripe (free-throw line). Koker also recorded a career-high seven steals to round out her performance.

“None of those stats necessarily stand out more than the other,” Carlsen said. “I thought she was really good defensively, very active on the defensive end. And we feel great when Chelby’s at the foul line. Especially in tight situations and closing out games, there’s nobody that I’d rather have there than her.”

Senior forward A’Jah Davis continued her impressive start to the season by logging her fifth straight double-double. Davis posted 12 points and took in a game-high 11 rebounds.

“With A’Jah being the player that she is, they (Lindenwood) were very conscientious wherever she was on the floor,” Koker said. “That definitely opened up things on the court for other people and then, obviously, she was able to score and kick out to other players.”

Maintaining trends

NIU’s recent success showed favor to the Huskies heading into their out-of-conference matchup. Monday marked the third time this season that NIU has faced off against an Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) foe and a first-time opponent, respectively. The Huskies entered the game with 2-0 records in both respects.

NIU wasted little time in breaking open the scoring as Davis hit a turn-around shot 20 seconds in. The Huskies stretched their start to 6-0 and kept the momentum by ending the first quarter up 24-14.

Lindenwood finished the first half strong with a 7-0 run in the waning minutes of the second quarter, simultaneously holding NIU to a 3:26 scoring drought. Both sides exchanged scores before the halftime buzzer, sending the teams into their locker rooms with NIU leading 39-28.

The Huskies came out of the half with a scheme that allowed them to build a 21-point lead with 3:41 left in the third quarter. The final two scores of the quarter came in the form of a pair of Lions layups to make it a 53-36 game heading into the final frame.

Lindenwood makes a late push

The hosting Lions opened the final quarter with a 10-2 run to bring the game within single digits, down 55-46 midway through the fourth quarter. Lindenwood came within six points of NIU on two occasions before a pair of NIU jumpers created a 10-point advantage with a minute left.

Davis attributed Lindenwood’s late push to premature relaxation by the Huskies and unnecessarily fouling while also asserting that NIU was the better team in Monday’s contest.

Lindenwood’s attempts to foul NIU late and get more scoring chances came up empty as NIU put the game away with six made free throws to end the game with a 67-56 NIU win. Monday’s result wraps up a five-game road stretch for NIU that dates back to Nov. 22.

Prior to Monday, the Huskies won two games thanks to last-second game-winners and also championed the Navy Tournament.

“It’s hard to win on the road, so I’m going to give ourselves a pat on the back for that,” Davis said.

Back home at last

NIU will return to the Convocation Center at noon on Saturday for its first home stand in just short of a month where the Huskies will host Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, another OVC opponent. The upcoming home game will include a Holiday Donation Drive, the result of a partnership between NIU women’s basketball and Safe Passage Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Crisis Center of DeKalb.

The team will then head back on the road for a Dec. 21 matchup with IUPUI for the Huskies’ final game of 2022.