DeKALB – Both of the Northern Illinois basketball teams came into Sunday searching for improvement.
After losing to Eastern Illinois, 67-55, the men are still looking for it.
The women think they found it in a 58-52 win against Temple.
“It was a great team win, some of the best team defense we’ve played,” NIU women’s coach Kathi Bennett said. “I thought our players were focused for 40 minutes.”
The Owls (2-2) beat the Huskies by 23 last year and received votes in the most recent AP and coaches polls. The NIU women were just one week removed from a 32-point loss to Loyola.
The Huskies (2-1) think they proved that last Sunday’s blowout loss was an anomaly.
“The Loyola game was shocking. I was stunned,” coach Kathi Bennett said. “We’ve always believed that we can be a contender. I’ve always believed that we can compete and play team defense. I don’t think we’ve ever doubted that. This is a really good win for us, but we’ve got a lot to do yet.”
After a slow start, redshirt freshman Jenna Thorp made a banked three-pointer as the first half expired to pull the Huskies within one.
The Huskies took the lead on a layup by senior Kim Davis on their first play of the second half, and trailed for just 15 seconds the rest of the game. Freshman Amanda Corral scored 12 of her team-leading 16 points in the second half.
“I thought [the three-pointer] brought energy going into that second half,” Thorp said. “It really pumped us up.”
The men’s team, on the other hand, couldn’t hold a lead down the stretch.
With eight minutes to go, NIU (0-4) led Eastern Illinois, 47-45, but 18 turnovers and 27 Panther free throws killed the Huskies.
“I’m proud of my guys. We held them to 30 percent [field goal shooting] in the second half, we just didn’t make enough plays,” coach Mark Montgomery said. “Those turnovers hurt us again, and getting off to bad starts in both halves. It shows that our guys are resilient. A couple of quick shots hurt us, a couple of turnovers down the stretch hurt us.”
The Huskies played well in spurts. Eastern Illinois (2-1) led 10-2 early, but after Montgomery made a flurry of substitutions, Northern Illinois came back to lead 19-18 with 7:55 left in the half on a three-pointer by Abdel Nader, who led the Huskies with 11 points.
Nader, though, was just 4 of 13 from the field, and the Huskies shot 34 percent.
“When you have seven freshmen playing a lot of minutes, unfortunately at times you’re going to have some bad decisions,” Montgomery said. “You only get so many timeouts. Things happen on the fly and they need to turn it around. We play good in segments.”
The Huskies maintain that the talent is there. It’s just a matter of maturing and improving for this young team.
“Starting off 0-4, a lot of guys can get down,” said Tim Toler, one of just two seniors on the team. “Sometimes I forget that I’m playing with a younger team, and sometimes I expect a lot more than I really should. These guys are really good. It’s a transition from high school basketball to big time Division-I basketball, so it’s going to take them a little bit of time to get adjusted.”