Buffalo, NY — The nation’s third-ranked offensive scoring team, the Northern Illinois Huskies entered into a serious MAC showdown against their rivals, the Buffalo Bulls Saturday afternoon. As intense as it was, and with Buffalo leading majority of the game, it would be the Huskies who managed to take home the win 89-80.
“Our team came together,” said Northern Illinois’ Ally Lehman. “We fought to the best of our abilities; it was a never give up mentality.”
In the first quarter, Northern Illinois took control of the game, demonstrating why their offense is ranked. They opened the game shooting 71.4% from the field in the first five minutes. But the Huskies consistency slowly tapered off, and the Bulls managed to create four lead changes, respectively shooting 42.1% of their field goals. Buffalo would end the opening period up, 20-17.
Throughout the match, both teams were seen exploiting each other’s weaknesses and isolating the team’s top scorers. However, the Huskies consistently have had three players averaging 16-points per game and two of them had double-doubles on Saturday. One player, Lehman has proven to be an exceptional all-around player this season, and she did not disappoint Saturday afternoon.
Lehman had another double-double this match, finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and one steal, clearly not straying away from a competitive game.
Courtney Woods also hit a double-double this game, respectively contributing 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. Mikayla Voigt joined in with the double-digit scoring, with an exceptional performance with 17 points, three assists, one steal, and Kelly Smith also netted double digits with 14 points, nine rebounds.
Despite Northern Illinois having all that firepower, Buffalo was by no means fearful of what the Huskies could produce, and accepted the challenge as three Bulls scored in double figures as well.
Buffalo’s top scorer, JoAnna Smith, was smothered initially, but clearly had an unwillingness to be silenced Saturday afternoon, finding her stride at the end of the first. Smith had a total of 22 points, three steals and two rebounds.
While Smith was being held on lockdown early in the game, Stephanie Reid naturally took on her leadership role, consistently creating opportunities for her team to score, and if they couldn’t execute, she was there to personally deliver. By the end of the night, she had 18 points, 12 assists, and three rebounds.
Courtney Wilkins took the initiative in the second quarter, proving to be a strong spark off the bench as she chipped in with 18 points of her own.
Neither team was backing down as plenty of players were stepping up in this back and forth action. When halftime came, Buffalo found themselves with the lead, 39-38.
Coming out of their respective locker-rooms, the Bulls did what any bull would do: charged the court with intensity. Buffalo would score six fast break points causing Northern Illinois to regroup before its deficit became too big.
The Huskies have found themselves down before and have overcome the deficits with ease. As they entered the final stanza, they still had a five-point hole to dig out of, 65-60, and they were not shying away.
In order to take the lead back, Northern Illinois dominated on the boards. They finished with 49 total boards, compared to Buffalo’s 37. To go along with cleaning up the glass, Huskies’ standout, Lehman tallied 13 of her 29 points in the fourth to help her team get the victory, 89-80.
“It was a great game by both teams,” said Northern Illinois’ head coach Lisa Carlsen. “We were lucky enough in the fourth quarter to hit a couple of big shots, get a couple of key defensive stops, in a game this tight that’s what makes the difference.”
The Huskies record now sits at 17-6, and are back in action as they face Miami (OH) Feb. 15. The Bulls now have a record of 16-7, and will be looking to bounce back against Eastern Michigan, Feb. 15.