DeKALB — Courtney Woods was frank about how far the Northern Illinois women's basketball team has come as an offensive team the last few weeks. Woods sank the game-winning shot in the final seconds Wednesday to propel NIU to an 86-84 home win over Miami.
“If we scored 86 points two months ago, people would have laughed, you know what I mean?" Woods said. "And that’s easy for us now. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just doing everything better individually.”
Miami (11-13, 4-8 Mid-American Conference), refused to fade and tied the game 84-84 on Savannah Kluesner's 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime. But Woods had the answer for NIU (8-14, 4-7 MAC), sinking the winning mid-range jumper after Ally May's baseline shot attempt caromed off the rim. Nikitinaite grabbed the rebound and dished out to Woods for the winning shot.
“The reaction is to give it up," Nikitinaite said. "I realized I had two people on me and I knew I had to give it up.”
Early in overtime, Riley Blackwell reversed her dribble and hit a 10-foot jumper and May knocked down a short baseline jumper from approximately the same spot she hit her game-winner on Feb. 1 against Buffalo, giving NIU a five-point lead. But Miami came back to tie it.
Five Huskies scored in double-digits, including Woods (20), Gabby Nikitinaite (19), Myia Starks (14), Koker (12) and May (11).
Scrapping every possession in the fourth, Miami took advantage of an A'Jah Davis missed layup as Lauren Dickerson answered with an and-1 bucket to go up 67-66. Miami surged ahead 69-66, only for Nikitinaite to tie the game 69-69 with a corner triple.
Kluesner hit another go-ahead bucket for the visitors, and then picked the pocket of Ally May, which led to a run-out 3-pointer for Dickerson and a five-point RedHawks advantage, 74-69. with 1:02 to go.
Out of the Huskies timeout, Myia Starks hit a layup to pull NIU within three, and the Huskies registered a stop to retrieve possession with 17.2 seconds left. Starks scored again to pull the Huskies within one. After a 1 of 2 free throw trip for Miami, Nikitianite found Ally May for an uncontested layup to tie the game. On the other end out of a timeout, Dickerson's floater fell short, forcing overtime.
“We pride ourselves on next-play mentality," May said of her own mistakes. "Obviously those were some really bad, crucial turnovers, but if I let it get to my head, Kluesner would score and then we’d be down even more. I think my teammates definitely were like, next, play, next play, patting me on the butt like we’re good to go.”
Nikitinaite said she has felt improved and has helped to improve her teammates on the practice floor as of late.
“It started at practice being more aggressive and just pushing each other," Nikitinaite said.
Chelby Koker scored seven points over three consecutive possessions in the third quarter, including two driving layups in the half-court offense and a fast-break layup sandwiched in between. The last of the sequence, in which Koker was fouled, put NIU up 51-40 with 2:48 left in the third when Koker sank the gifted free throw.
Davis had six of NIU's points in a row in the second quarter to kick-start an 11-0 NIU run, all of the points which came from Davis and Nikitinaite, as NIU tied the game 30-30 before heading into the half down 32-31.
The Huskies began at a snails' pace, falling behind as much as 15 points (21-6) in the first quarter as the RedHawks plucked eight offensive rebounds from the glass in the first period.
By the numbers: Ally May scored nine of her 11 points in the second half and overtime. Nikitinaite had seven rebounds and four assists. Woods had a double-double, adding 10 rebounds. Kluesner scored 28 points on 24 shots for the RedHawks and added 12 rebounds. Dickerson had 17 points, six assists.
Beyond the stats: Carlsen said that Nikitinaite, who is back to playing big minutes after seeing the floor little for fewer than 10 minutes in three straight January games, said that Nikitinaite has taken advantage of her playing time as of late.
They said it: "There’s no secret that Gabby has been an x-factor for us the past couple weeks," NIU coach Lisa Carlsen said. "She has been really engaged in everything that we’ve done offensively and defensively, sharing the basketball, rebounding the basketball, all of those things.”
Up next: NIU hosts Western Michigan Saturday.