The Northern Illinois women’s basketball team fought back from a nine-point second half deficit to beat George Washington, 66-60, giving Kathi Bennett her first win as head coach of the Huskies, Sunday.
“The one thing that we showed was heart,” Bennett said. “No matter what the score was, we played on and through. That shows a lot of our character and I’m really proud of that fact.”
The Huskies (1-1) were down 49-40 after Colonial forward Ivy Abiona scored inside and drew the third foul on NIU center Ebony Ellis with 11:01 left in the game. Bennett left Ellis in the game despite the foul trouble, and the Huskies finished the game with a 26-11 run.
“(Ellis) really had a great second half,” Bennett said. “She came in and rebounded, defended, and commanded the ball in the low post and it was really great to see.”
Ellis finished the game with 11 points and six rebounds, including nine points and five boards in the second half alone.
Senior Marke Freeman, who scored a game-high 25 points, spurred the Huskie comeback. She hit a three-pointer to cut George Washington’s lead to six, and added a conventional three-point play 90 seconds later to bring NIU within three. The Huskies continued to battle, tying the game at 55 with 3:42 on the clock with a free throw by sophomore Kim Davis.
The Colonials (0-2) answered to go up 57-55 on a put-back by Abiona. On the next play, Davis rebounded a miss by Ellis, scored to tie the game, and drew a foul on Megan Nipe. Davis sunk the ensuing free throw to put NIU up 58-57.
“That was a huge momentum swing,” Bennett said.
George Washington turned the ball over one play later, and Davis nailed a jumper to give Northern Illinois a three-point lead. From there the Huskies went 6-of-6 from the free throw line to seal the win.
Freeman started hot and never slowed down. The Preseason All-MAC West Team selection hit two three-pointers in the first three minutes of the game. She finished with four threes on the day, and went 9-for-15 from the field.
“Marke really played a great game offensively and defensively,” Bennett said.
In addition to four steals, Freeman drew a key charge on Abiona with 5:41 on the clock. Her efforts earned a place on the Best Buy Classic All-Tournament team. The Huskies placed third in the event.
NIU hit just five of its first 20 shots, but then went 18-of-33 from the field to shoot 43.3 percent (23-53) from the field. Northern Illinois held George Washington to 35.5 percent shooting (22-62), and just 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) on three-pointers.
“It wasn’t a pretty or glamorous game, but it came down to heart,” Bennett said.
In addition to being Bennett’s first win as NIU head coach, it was her 297th overall and the 400th NCAA victory for the Huskie women’s basketball program.
NIU continues its season-opening five-game road trip at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16, at Western Illinois.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.