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Women's basketball: NIU loses to Eastern Michigan in first round of MAC tournament

NIU players react after losing in the first round of the MAC tournament to Eastern Michigan in DeKalb Mar. 5.
NIU players react after losing in the first round of the MAC tournament to Eastern Michigan in DeKalb Mar. 5.

DeKALB – Courtney Woods converted a layup to give Northern Illinois a one-point lead with 4:18 remaining in a Mid-American Conference tournament first-round game against Eastern Michigan.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, they didn’t score another field goal for the rest of the game, as the Eagles ran past NIU, 84-77, on Monday night at the Convocation Center.

NIU concludes its season at 15-15.

“I think we had some good looks, and the ball just didn’t fall,” NIU coach Lisa Carlsen said. “The game is like that. Sometimes you get a good look, really that’s what you’re hoping for. …I really thought it wasn’t so much our execution, it was just the ball didn’t fall.”

The Huskies failed to convert when it mattered most. Eastern Michigan and NIU each made six shots in the fourth quarter. However, the Huskies attempted 17 and Eastern Michigan took 10. NIU finished shooting 40.7 percent (24 of 59) from the field.

“We wanted to really get to Cleveland knowing we had to be tough and solid,” senior Kelly Smith said. “Both teams came into tonight ready to fight.”

Smith finished with 20 points, while Woods tallied a team-best 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Danielle Minott and Courtney Lewis each scored 22 points for the Eagles, and Emoni Jackson chipped in 12.

In addition to the Huskies’ late-game offensive struggles, they were plagued by turnovers, committing 19 compared to Eastern Michigan’s 10.

“Unfortunately, we got into a little bit of a panic at the end,” said junior Mikayla Voigt, who had a team-high six turnovers. “But I’m still really proud of this team, and how we fought all the way to the final buzzer. We’ll be back next year.”

Voigt played the entire game against Eastern Michigan, finishing with 18 points, six assists, four rebounds and six turnovers. She entered Monday’s game leading both her team and the MAC in minutes (36.4 a game). Voigt had an uptick in playing time this season after sophomore point guard Myia Starks tore her ACL in January.

The Huskies also have been without sophomore guard Janae Poisson, who tore her ACL only four games into the season. Because of injuries at guard, Voigt had to shift over from shooting to point guard midway through the year.

Voigt said battling through adversity made NIU stronger.

“Toward the end of the season, we were playing really really good basketball,” Voigt said. “I think we were playing well together. It’s sad it has to come to an end. We’re obviously excited to have those people back.

“But I couldn’t be more proud of the team that was on the floor tonight and even the people that were on the bench supporting us because it really was a collective effort. I think we can only be proud of each other.”

The Eagles frustrated the Huskies, finishing with eight steals and three blocks.

Carlsen credited Eastern Michigan’s defensive prowess. She admitted her team’s inability to respond to ball pressure has been a problem for the Huskies without a true point guard.

“We knew it was going to be like that,” she said. “They do a really nice job of pressuring the basketball and we’ve talked about it multiple times. … Teams are going to do that. They’re going to get up and pressure the basketball. They were physical and handsy. We lost possession of the basketball a few times tonight. It wasn’t necessarily unexpected.”

NIU is 11-21 in its 21-year MAC tournament history, including a 2-3 mark under Carlsen.

“I thought our intensity and focus was there,” Carlsen said. But things just didn’t go our way. Unfortunately, we have to sit on this one for a while.”

By the numbers: Woods finished with a game-best 24 points. Kelly Smith had 20 points and Mikayla Voigt added 18.

Beyond the stats: NIU’s last win in a first-round game was March 10, 2014. The Huskies are 6-15 in first-round games.

They said it: “At the end of the day, we’re not going to play another basketball game until next November,” Woods said. “For seven months, we’re going to have a sour taste in our mouth. I think that’s going to motivate our offseason workouts, our summer workouts because we don’t get to play another basketball game until November. Especially losing our seniors, it’s awful that we go out on that note. But we have to look back at all the good times and all the good games we played this year and put this one away and learn from it for next year.”

Up next: Eastern Michigan (11-19) moves on to face top-seeded Central Michigan in a MAC tournament quarterfinal game Wednesday at the Quicken Loans Center in Cleveland. Tipoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. NIU concludes its season with a record of 15-15.

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