The hope of ending an NCAA Tournament drought will likely have to wait another year for the Northern Illinois women's basketball team.
The No. 4 seed Huskies struggled from the outside and allowed a critical run by Toledo in the fourth quarter and the No. 6 seed Rockets came away with an 82-71 victory in the Mid-American Conference Championship on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
The Huskies, who last made a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1995, took a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter on Saturday on a 3-pointer by Courtney Woods. However, Toledo (25-8) answered with a 14-0 run to take control of the game.
"Obviously right now, when you get done playing in the championship game and you end up on the losing end, it's a tough situation to be in," Northern Illinois coach Lisa Carlsen said. "They're obviously not happy and sad to see it end and allow the opportunity to get away. ... There's hopefully an opportunity for us to continue to play basketball and we'll talk a little more about it when the sting wears off."
Playing in its first MAC Championship in school history, Northern Illinois (21-11) likely missed out on a chance at a trip to the NCAA Tournament with the loss to Toledo, but will wait to see if it is selected for a different postseason tournament.
"We haven't talked a lot about that," Carlsen said. "You don't talk about the postseason when you're playing in the conference tournament. Maybe some of that will help ease the pain, I don't know. They looked at this as a survive-and-advance situation and the hope was to get to the NCAA Tournament and I don't think they can see past that, which is fine. They put their heart and soul into this game."
Against the Rockets, Northern Illinois senior Ally Lehman finished with a team-high 22 points and added six rebounds and six assists. The Huskies got a strong game from their bench, with post Renee Sladek (15 points) and guard Janae Poisson (13 points) each scoring in double figures.
It was a strong tournament off the bench for Sladek, who missed last season with a knee injury. She averaged 10.3 points per game in the three contests.
"She had a great tournament and she was confident on the offensive end," Carlsen said. "A lot of it is getting more and more confident in her knee and her ability to play."
Toledo's Mikaela Boyd scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the win.
Northern Illinois struggled from the outside, finishing 4 for 24 (16.7 percent) as a team from the 3-point line.
"I don't know that we got great looks, we got some good ones and no, we didn't shoot the ball particularly well, especially from behind the arc," Carlsen said. "You have to give Toledo a lot of credit, they've been better than a lot of teams this year making things tough in terms of getting quality looks."
During conference play, the Rockets were first in the MAC in scoring defense (63.3 points per game) and opponent's field goal percentage (37 percent).
The Huskies led by as much as seven, when a free throw by Cassidy Glenn put them ahead, 45-38, midway through the third quarter.
The loss ends a MAC Tournament in which the Huskies had the largest comeback win in program history when they erased a 22-point deficit in a 72-71 win over Ohio in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, the Huskies cruised to an 83-55 win to send them to the first MAC title game in school history.
"The overall body of work that these kids have been able to do, there's been a lot of firsts," Carlsen said. "There are firsts all over, both collectively and individually. The good thing about a run like this, especially for your underclassmen, they have a taste. They know what it's like. They've been there, done that."