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NIU Women's Basketball: Huskies flat offensively in opening loss to Harvard as Woods returns

Northern Illinois senior Courtney Woods and Harvard sophomore Maggie McCarthy fight for a loose ball Tuesday during their game at the Convocation Center at NIU.
Northern Illinois senior Courtney Woods and Harvard sophomore Maggie McCarthy fight for a loose ball Tuesday during their game at the Convocation Center at NIU.

DeKALB – Courtney Woods and the rest of the offense for the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team was flat throughout a 59-53 season-opening home loss to Harvard on Tuesday.

The Huskies never found a rhythm, shooting 15-of-68 (22%) and 7-of-34 (20.6%) on 3-pointers. NIU pulled as close as four in the final minute but couldn’t overcome the deficit.

“I needed to be able to get my team a go-ahead basket in the fourth, and I couldn’t, so I need to put myself in a position to do that more,” Woods said.

With 27 seconds remaining in the game, Woods sank a runner in the lane to make the score 53-47. After a Harvard 1-of-2 trip at the free-throw line, Myia Starks sank two free throws on the other end as NIU trailed, 54-49, with 22.6 seconds left.

A Woods layup had NIU down only four points, but another Crimson free throw and a Huskies turnover sealed the deal.

“We’re going to go back and look at those situations on the offensive end where we got great looks, and we’re going to knock those down more often than we don’t. Unfortunately, today the ball didn’t go in the basket,” NIU coach Lisa Carlsen said.

Crimson freshman Lola Mullaney sank six 3-pointers in the first half on her way to a game-high 25 points.

Woods, returning from rehabbing after an ACL tear last season, played her first game since Dec. 2. She struggled to get the ball to go down but still scored a team-high 22 points on 7-of-22 shooting (1-of-10 on 3-pointers). Woods sank seven of her eight free throws.

“I felt good,” Woods said. “I’d like to think I can control it more, but I know I can’t, so I really need to be able to impact the game in other ways. And I think I struggled to put the ball in the basket when I couldn’t get a 3 in, but I just need to be able to control that more.”

NIU’s defense, led on the day by Myia Starks, slowed down Mullaney in the second half, as the freshman hit only one field goal in the second half.

“I would like to say that I’m a defensive leader on this team, so I was just trying to put pressure on her and make her uncomfortable as much as I could,” Starks said.

The Crimson scored in the final minute of the third quarter, then did not score again until 4:19 remained when Harvard grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and 6-foot-3 senior forward Jeannie Boehm followed up the latter with an easy layup as Harvard went ahead, 49-38.

On NIU’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Riley Blackwell corralled an offensive rebound and dished to Ally May for an open 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 47-34. NIU pulled within nine after two Woods free throws, some defensive stops and a Woods runner.

“From the beginning, from the tip, our goal was to get offensive rebounds, and I just think it became even more important when I saw we weren’t shooting the ball [well],” Blackwell said.

By the numbers: The Crimson were 9-of-23 from the free-throw line, which allowed NIU to stay in the game late. Harvard led, 20-16, after the first quarter, 39-24 at half, and 47-31 after three periods. Blackwell led the Huskies with 10 rebounds, and May added seven.

Beyond the stats: Tuesday was Education Day at the Convocation Center, with hundreds of elementary students in attendance, screaming to their hearts content.

They said it: “[In the] second half ... we were for sure better on the defensive end,” Carlsen said. “We played with a lot more sense of urgency. I thought [Starks] did a great job on Mullaney the second half after she had a great first half, and I thought we were better on the glass.”

Up next: NIU plays Sunday at North Dakota State.

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