Huskies hold off Western Michigan to advance in MAC Tournament


By Justin Kelley

DeKALB – Women’s basketball beat Western Michigan University Broncos 70-69 in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament. This was the third time these two teams have met this year with NIU sweeping the season series..

The Broncos were at the free-throw line down by one and only .6 seconds remaining. Sophomore forward Leighah-Amori Wool had two chances to tie the game or take the lead for WMU but missed both ensuing free throws to give Huskies the narrow victory.

NIU won both previous matchups against the Broncos but they have been pushed to the limit especially in the second game. The Huskies escaped with a three-point victory against WMU Saturday 74-71 in the regular season finale.

The Huskies got off to a hot shooting start, making 58.3 percent of their attempts in the first quarter. NIU had similar success on the defensive end only allowing WMU to make 1-6 attempts from three-point territory.

Junior guard Gabby Nikitinaite led the Huskies in scoring with eight points while grabbing one rebound in the first quarter.

The Huskies’ offense continued to find space against WMU, shooting 46.2 percent from the field in the second. WMU’s offense, on the other hand, continued to struggle making 5-13 shot attempts in the quarter.

Junior guard Myia Starks led the way for the Huskies scoring seven points in the second quarter. Her efforts helped the Huskies to take a 38-29 lead into halftime.

Related: Huskies down Western Michigan in regular season finale

NIU’s offense struggled to find success out of the break only knocking down 33.3 percent of their attempts from the floor. The Broncos closed their deficit to one. WMU out scored the Huskies 21-13 in the third quarter .

Starks led  the Huskies in the quarter scoring seven points and knocking down 50 percent of her shots.

Both teams battled for control in the fourth quarter as the lead changed hands four times. The back forth contest continued until NIU retook the 70-69 lead with a senior guard Mikayla Voigt layup with five seconds left.

Head Coach Lisa Carlsen said it’s crucial to have your key player take the final shot in close situations.

“You gotta put the ball in your best player’s hands regardless of the situation that happen in the first thirty eight minutes.” Carlsen said.

The Huskies perseverance was tested , after Wool missed two potential game-tying free throws to help NIU move on in the MAC Tournament.

Starks scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed three rebounds for the game. Junior forward Ally May recorded a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Carlsen said Starks displayed toughness in this game after dealing with an illness.

“For [Starks] to come out and play, not just the way she played but essentially the entire ball game after the last 24 hours she had, i can’t say enough about her toughness.” Carlsen said

The Huskies will now play the Ohio University Bobcats in the second round of the MAC tournament beginning 5:30 p.m Wednesday in Cleveland, OH at Quicken Loans Arena.