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Bennett proud of NIU’s effort, despite loss

DeKALB – Northern Illinois women’s basketball coach Kathi Bennett didn’t think her team could have played any harder in the second half of Thursday’s 54-45 loss to Eastern Michigan.

The Huskies (7-20, 2-12 Mid-American Conference) had a sluggish first half, shooting just 24 percent, but stayed within striking distance of the Eagles (8-19, 6-8 MAC), tying Eastern Michigan, 30-30, on an Amanda Corral 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 11:52 left in the game.

However, NIU just couldn’t take control. The Huskies tied the Eagles once again, this time at 38, on an Alexis Lindstrom jump shot with 5:57 left, but Eastern Michigan ended the game on a 16-7 run.

Despite her team’s fourth consecutive loss, Bennett still thought her team’s effort was there after halftime, when NIU was able to grab rebounds – the Huskies outrebounded the Eagles, 43-35, on the evening – and grab loose balls.

“I’m not saying we played the smartest. Had some untimely turnovers and some missed shots,” Bennett said. “[The effort] was good, and I saw some players get better today.”

Corral led the Huskies with 14 points. Natecia Augusta finished with 12, and Bennett mentioned her improved play throughout the season. The sophomore forward came into the contest averaging 6.1 points per game.

“She kept a lot of basketballs alive,” Bennett said. “A lot of tips, and just the energy.”

Augusta said Bennett talked to the team at halftime about working harder in the second half. As a group, the Huskies rose to the challenge.

“We feed off her energy. She brings good energy, no matter if we’re down or out,” Augusta said. “We feed off her energy and we collectively decide what we need to do after that.”

With the loss, NIU is guaranteed to finish alone at the bottom of the MAC West. The Huskies close out the season with their home finale Sunday against Central Michigan at 3 p.m. NIU ends the regular season at Western Michigan March 6, with the MAC Tournament starting March 9.

In the loss to the Eagles, the Huskies had just 12 points in the paint, compared to 26 for Eastern Michigan.

“That was one thing we wanted to do, was pound the ball inside, attack them,” Eastern Michigan coach Tory Verdi said. “We weren’t sure whether they would play man or zone, but regardless of what they played defensively we wanted to attack the basket and drive on them and try to get to the free throw line as well. We’re really, really happy with our effort there.”

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