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NIU erases 22-point deficit, shocks Ohio, advances to semifinals

In a stunning fourth quarter, the NIU Huskies topped the Ohio Bobcats 72-71 to advance to the MAC tournament semifinals.

Scott Walstrom, NIU Creative Services

Cleveland, Ohio— In the second round of the MAC Tournament, it’s pretty clear that no lead is safe in March.

That was the case as the fourth-seeded Northern Illinois University Huskies topped the fifth-seeded Ohio University Bobcats on Wednesday afternoon in a fourth quarter comeback, 72-71.

Leading scorers for the Huskies were Mikayla Voigt with 19 points and Ally Lehman with 17. Courtney Woods and Renee Sladek also each had 12 points, rounding out the Huskies that were in double figures. Ohio was led by Quiera Lampkins with 17 and Amani Burke with 16.

It’s no secret that basketball is a game of runs. Heading into the fourth, Ohio was on top of Northern Illinois, 62-50. In the final 10 minutes, a stunning defensive effort by the Huskies would hold the Bobcats to just nine points on 2-14 shooting.

And while the Huskies defensive effort increased, their win was arguably due to their increased offensive output. They scored 21 points, and one of the biggest plays in the fourth quarter came when the Huskies’ Mikayla Voigt tied the game at 69 with a driving layup with just over two minutes left to play.

“Once we knocked down some shots as well, we got more bounce, and on the defensive end, I mean it translated to offense,” Lehman said.

“The same thing, offensively, once we get a bucket of two, there's more bounce. You can see us actually step out on the shooters on the defensive end, and I think the second half we did a better job of contesting the 3, and we were definitely more physical than how we came out and that's something we're going to have to do from the get-go.”

Another critical deciding factor in the game was where each team decided to score a majority of their points. While the Bobcats made 13 threes compared to Northern Illinois’ four, the Huskies scored 44 of their 72 points in the paint.

“Well, I don't know if I have an explanation for what just happened, but when it comes down to it, we talk about it all the time, it's about kids making plays,” NIU head coach Lisa Carlsen said following her team’s win.

“I think down the stretch obviously you saw that. We put ourselves in quite a hole, but we've been in situations before this year where we've had to dig out of holes, so these guys obviously believe it could be done, and it couldn't have been done on a bigger stage so I'm really proud of them.”

The Bobcats shot lights out of the entire first half. After one quarter, Ohio was up 23-10. By the end of first quarter, OU already nailed six threes. On the defensive end, Jasmine Weatherspoon gave the Huskies fits down low, recording five blocks.

In the second quarter, Kelly Karlis came out and continued to push the Bobcats momentum, immediately hitting a three. By the time they went into the locker room, the Bobcats had hit nine threes and were shooting 43 percent from the field, going 15-35 as a team. Compare that to Northern Illinois shooting 27 percent with only one three, and it isn’t surprising that the Bobcats were up 41-24 at halftime.

The second half was when the Huskies would begin to turn the game around. They would improve their own shooting for the game, and by the end of the third, both Northern Illinois and Ohio were shooting 40 percent from the field.

As they rallied back in the fourth quarter, it was clear that the momentum was completely in the Huskies’ favor. And in March, momentum is arguably worth as much as any shot.

The Huskies will take on Western Michigan University on Saturday in the MAC tournament semifinals.