Created:Thursday, January 20, 2011 5:30 a.m.CDT

Point play pivotal in NIU victory

Northern Illinois center Ebony Ellis looks to shoot over Ball State forward Emily Maggert during the first half of the Huskies' 73-62 victory Wednesday night in DeKalb. (Rob Winner –

DeKALB – There’s a reason point guard is considered the most important position in basketball.

Almost everything a team does runs through that one player. When things go well, the point guard often deserves much of the credit. Same thing when outcomes turn bad.

The Northern Illinois women’s basketball team clearly had the better point guard in Wednesday night’s 73-62 win against Ball State.

Huskies senior Marke Freeman tied a career high with 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting and added eight rebounds. More importantly, she had a career-high nine steals and made things difficult for Ball State’s offense throughout.

By the time she was done, Freeman was only one steal and two rebounds away from becoming the third player with a triple-double in the history of NIU women’s basketball.

“My main thing coming in was just knowing my role and getting more shots through the offense, just relying on my teammates and trusting them,” Freeman said. “They relieved me of a lot of pressure when I got the ball. I just knew I had to be aggressive, whether it was with the ball or without the ball, offensively or defensively.”

Freeman’s defense stifled Ball State point guard Ty’Ronda Benning from tipoff.

Although Benning finished with 22 points – most of which she scored with NIU leading by double digits – she was forced into nine turnovers. Freeman stole the basketball from Benning on the Cardinals’ first two possessions of the game.

With Ball State struggling to simply dribble the basketball up the court, its offense struggled.

The Cardinals were held scoreless until a pair of free throws from Brandy Woody at the 13:53 mark. They didn’t reach double digits until less than six minutes left in the first half. By that point, NIU led 29-10.

“I really thought that was the key,” Ball State coach Kelly Packard said of her team’s inability to quickly recover after Freeman’s first two steals. “It took us a long time to respond to that and what that tone set for us. When you go on the road in the MAC, you can not take the first hit like that and not respond.”

Ball State tried to slow the 5-foot-5 Freeman on the offensive end in the second half by switching to 6-1 forward Jazmin Hitchens. Packard also instructed her team to prevent Freeman from receiving any passes.

Neither strategy worked. NIU’s leading scorer this season had 14 points in the second half after finish the first half with 16.

“I think our no-catch (defense) was too bashful,” Packard said. “You have to be really, really committed to that if you’re going to simply face guard and deny (the pass). I don’t feel like we were strong enough and as committed to that as we should’ve been.”

NIU couldn’t have been more desperate for a win entering the game. The Huskies had lost five straight games and were the only remaining winless team in the Mid-American Conference West.

“We competed with everybody. All of our games have been close,” NIU coach Kathi Bennett said. “To finally get a win feels really good. We know the majority of the season is left in the MAC, and we’re excited about that.”

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