Defensive efforts lift Huskies past Kent State

Chelby Koker exits game in forth quarter with knee injury.


Summer Fitzgerald

Akron defenders guard against redshirt senior guard Janae Poisson Monday night at the NIU Convocation Center. (Summer Fitzgerald | Northern Star)

By DeOndre Saunders, Sports Reporter

DeKALB — Women’s basketball continued its winning streak after knocking off Kent State University 61-55 Wednesday.

The Huskies had three players score in the double digits. Junior forward A’Jah Davis led with 16 points, while junior guard Chelby Koker and senior guard Janae Poisson both scored 13.

Koker sustained a non-contact injury in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game, twisting her knee with 8:20 left to play.

Prior to the injury, Koker couldn’t be stopped as she had eight points in the first quarter alone. Kent State defenders were leaving Koker in space, which allowed her to two make three-pointers.

NIU was able to get to the basket despite having tall defenders on the opposing side, such as Kent State 6’2” junior forward Nila Blackford, 5‘10” senior guard Hannah Young, and 6’2” senior forward Lindsey Thall.

Kent State attempted 12 three-pointers in the first quarter because they couldn’t get in the paint because of the great defensive play by the Huskies. Kent State shot 4-12 from the three making them 33.3%.

In the second quarter, NIU did a good job defensively on Kent State, making the Golden Flashes force shots and turn the ball over. Kent State attempted 12 shots from the field, only making one shot to result in a field goal shooting percentage of8.3% from the field and 11.1% from three.

The Huskies had a good shooting performance in the second quarter, shooting 46.2% and 40.0% from three. The Huskies sought to maintain this defensive effort and great shooting in the second half.

The Huskies went into halftime up 29-23. Koker led all scorers in the first half with 11 points, also recording 4 assists.

Kent State’s Blackford came in the second half attacking the paint. She had four points in the first two minutes of the third, looking to go at NIU’s Davis strong. Davis answered back by scoring four points in the paint.

“A’Jah was presented with a lot of challenges with their length, fiscality, and different double teams,” Head coach Lisa Carlsen said. “I thought she got better as the game went on and understood what they were trying to do.”

Kent State got their points from the free-throw line as the Huskies fouled them five times in the quarter. They had eight points off free throws.

Koker got injured at 8:20 in the fourth quarter when she twisted her knee. She left the game and sophomore guard Jayden Marable took her place.

Koker’s absence didn’t stop the Huskies from being aggressive on defense and continuing their scoring. Senior forward Mikayla Brandon, Davis, freshman guard Sidney McCrea, and Poisson scored after Koker’s departure from the game.

“We knew the worst thing we could do was let (Koker’s injury) affect the result of the end of the ball game,” Carlsen said. “They were able to regain their composure and finish it out.”

Blackford battled to keep the Golden Flashes in the game as she was the only Kent State player putting up points until a basket from Thall at 1:59, which brought the game close at 53-50.

Blackford went for a layup and made it as Brandon fouled her. Blackford made the layup then shot a free throw to tie the game 53-53 with 1:08 remaining.

The Huskies had the ball looking to score, which they did with a layup from Davis. Kent State scored as well after Brandon’s player was open. Brandon got hit in the face and went down which led to the open bucket.

A technical foul was called on Blackford following the hit against Brandon. Poisson shot the following free throws, only making one.

Blackford’s fourth quarter performance wasn’t enough as the Huskies won the game 61-55. Blackford had a double-double Wednesday with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

“I don’t think I’ve been more proud of a team,” Carlsen said. “We stuck together late in a game against a great Kent State team and did what we needed to do.”

NIU’s overall record now sits at 7-9 and a record of 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference.

The Huskies are now headed to Buffalo, New York, to play against the University of Buffalo. Play will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday and will be streamed on ESPN3.