For the NIU women’s basketball team, home was where the wins were for the last four weeks.
The Huskies (5-5, 1-0) ended a three-game losing streak Saturday with a 94-85 come-from-behind victory over Cleveland State at the friendly confines of Chick Evans Field House. After a 73-55 upset of then-No. 6 Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 16 at the fieldhouse, NIU dropped its next three on the road to Manhattan, DePaul and Utah.
Thanks to the play of Cindy Conner (career-high 32 points), the Huskies erased a seven-point, second-half deficit to pull out the North Star Conference opener over Cleveland State. Down 70-63 with 7:15 remaining, three Conner baskets and a Tracy Mondek (10 points) free throw knotted the score at 70 at the 6:23 mark.
Another Conner field goal produced the last tie of the game, 82-82, with 3:43 left. An E.C. Hill three-pointer put the Huskies up for good, 85-82, with 2:27 to go.
NIU jumped out to a 17-7 lead in the first four minutes but was held to only two points for the next seven minutes as the Vikings fought back to a 22-19 lead with just over nine minutes to go in the first half.
A Mondek put-back made it a 40-38 Huskie advantage at the break. For the first half, there were four ties and six lead changes, and for the game, there were eight ties and 10 lead changes.
Conner had a double-double with the 32 points and 10 rebounds. Dianna Wingis just missed with 13 points and nine boards. Debbie Teske, in her second consecutive start at the point, added 10 points and seven assists. Cleveland State (3-12, 0-2) was led by Lanette Taylor and Heidi Marshall with 23 points each.
“It’s just wonderful to win and to be at home,” NIU head coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said. “We had a great team effort. When it got tough, we got tougher. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves when we were down. We worked a little harder on defense.”
It was a new Huskie defense that led to the upset over Stephen F. Austin. Switching from Albright-Dieterle’s traditional man-to-man setup, NIU used a zone to force the Ladyjacks into shooting only 31 percent from the field.
The Huskies shot a season-high 52 percent and a 17-0 run early in the second half broke a 36-36 tie. Wingis paced NIU with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Dee Dee Jeske added 13 points, while E.C. Hill had 11 points and seven assists.
A 12-0 Manhattan run late in the second half lifted the Lady Jaspers over NIU 69-62 Dec. 21 to start the Huskies’ road swoon. Hill led NIU with 19 points, while Conner added 17 points and 11 rebounds.
A career-high 30 points by Rita Hale led DePaul to its 72-59 triumph Jan. 2 at Alumni Hall. The Huskies, led by Conner’s 16 points, shot only 33 percent from the floor.
Angela Lockett’s 21 points and Teske’s 13 points and five steals weren’t enough as NIU fell to Utah 85-78 in overtime on Jan. 6.
“Our pre-conference schedule adequately prepared us to meet our main goal, which is to win the conference championship,” Albright-Dieterle said before the Cleveland State game.
The Huskies will shoot for a second straight win Monday at 7 p.m. at the fieldhouse against NSC foe Akron, led by Angela Harris and Leigh Burdette.