Women’s basketball gets big win

By Eddie Garcia

DeKalb — The women’s basketball team increased its chances for home court advantage for the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament Saturday by defeating the Eastern Michigan Eagles (10-17, 6-10 MAC) 84-75.

NIU (14-13, 6-10 MAC) was able to get one step closer to the No. 9 spot after winning a game that did not feature any ties or lead changes.

“Obviously it is a big win, especially when you are looking at the standings, and you are looking up at Eastern with the significance of being able to play a home game,” said Head Coach Lisa Carlsen. “We know every [win] going down the stretch is going to be big, but this one obviously was a huge start to end of the regular season for us, and I think the kids understand that and came ready to play.”

NIU jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the opening three minutes of the game and never looked back.

The Huskies shot just over 58 percent while the Eagles struggled on 5-for-20 shooting from the field in the first quarter.

Junior guard Mikayla Voigt led the offense, as she contributed 10 points and three assists in the first half. Voigt, who recently earned Academic All-District Second-Team honors, tied her career-high, as she recorded a game-high 26 points on 4-of-7 from behind the arc. Voigt shot 73 percent overall.

Carlsen said Voigt’s comfortability leading the team with the basketball has been vital for the team’s success.

“We asked her to have the ball in her hands as much or more tonight than we have all year knowing that Eastern is going to bring the pressure and knowing that they are going to throw some pressing situations at us, and I thought she handled it really well,” Carlsen said. “We needed her to play like that today in order for us to have a chance.”

The Huskies showed why they rank No. 2 in the MAC in 3-point field goals made, as they shot 54.5 percent from behind the arc in the first half.

Junior guard Courtney Woods finished with a near triple-double as she added 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Woods co-led the team with four 3-point field goals in the game. The junior guard is one of six players in conference history to hit over 100 threes in a single season, a feat she accomplished in 2016-17.

Woods has 72 3-pointers made this season and is currently on pace to finish with about 90.

Carlsen said Woods’ numbers in the end really won’t surprise her due to her consistency on the court this season.

“It’s not like she hasn’t shown the ability to score on a night-to-night basis,” Carlsen said. “She is really confident on the offensive end, and her teammates understand that we need the ball in her hands, and I think that is a great combination.”

The Huskies led 44-30 by halftime and did not show any signs of slowing down.

NIU shot nearly 63 percent in the first half and looked to continue its dominance in the final 20 minutes of the game.

However, Eastern Michigan answered and pushed for a late comeback to bring the game within four points with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Huskies followed up with two unanswered scores from Voigt and Woods to end the Eagles comeback.

“We look at those situations as how huge they were and then we get a couple of stops and we are back to pushing it to more than a few possessions lead,” Carlsen said. Those situations were obviously big for us.”

NIU was 0-7 against MAC West foes before the win over EMU.

Carlsen said she doesn’t consider what division a team is on but admitted that the MAC West has been extremely competitive this season.

“The MAC West is like going through a gauntlet,” Carlsen said. “I think anybody in the [MAC West] would tell you that.”

The Huskies will look to close out their season strong at home against the University of Toledo 6 p.m. Wednesday and Western Michigan University 1 p.m. Saturday.

“We need to play like our backs are against the wall every time out,” Carlsen said. “I think that is what we did today, and that is what we are going to have to do on Wednesday against Toledo, and that is what we are going to have to do on Saturday against Western. We just have to play like everything is on the line and each possession is vitally important, and I think if we do that, then we’ll have an opportunity in both of those games.”