Women’s basketball: NIU defense falters in loss to Bowling Green

Northern Illinois's Sidney McCrea (2) tries to defend Bowling Green's Amy Velasco (1) during the first half of the game on Saturday Feb. 24, 2024, held at The Convocation Center in DeKalb.

DeKALB – The NIU women had a chance, if everything fell right, to jump into a tie for fourth place in the MAC standings.

Instead, the Huskies are still clinging onto seventh place by a game after an 82-73 loss to Bowling Green on Saturday.

“I mean, they’re all big right? But ... this is a team right ahead of us in the standings,” NIU coach Lisa Carlsen said. “There’s a lot of movement that’s going to go on every Wednesday, every Saturday. Unfortunately for us this is a tough one moving forward. But we’re not going to dwell on it. There’s a lot of teams fighting to get to Cleveland.

The Huskies (13-13, 6-8) entered Saturday in seventh place in the Mid-American Conference, with the top eight teams earning a trip to the conference tournament. The Falcons (14-11, 8-6) remain in a fourth-place tie with Buffalo, who also won Saturday.

NIU had been surging heading into Saturday’s game, having won four of its last five. The last two of those were on the road as well.

The Falcons led for 33:56 of the game, including the last 14 minutes. The Huskies tied things up on a Brooke Stonebreaker bucket, but a 3-pointer by Morgan Sharps put the Falcons up 46-43 with 6:00 left in the third, a lead that would grow to as much 76-63 with 2:36 left.

The Huskies hadn’t given up more than 80 points in a conference game this year.

“Their offense is just different,” Carlsen said of Bowling Green, who beat NIU 72-54 on Jan. 31 in Ohio. “They can score at all three levels and they can really get downhill. That probably causes us more problems than the sets other teams run.”

Stonebreaker finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, breaking her streak of three straight double-doubles. Sydney McCrea had 13 for NIU and Jayden Marable led the Huskies with 15 points.

NIU led less than five minutes of game time and never by more than five. After shooting 50% in the first half, the Huskies made just 5-of-15 shots in the third quarter. The Falcons also shot 33.3% in the third but shot 8 for 10 in the fourth from both the line and the floor.

“It was kind of up and down,” Stonebreaker said of the Huskies’ defense. “But we need to win that toughness battle, and it was off tonight.”

Amy Velasco poured in a career-best 32 for the Falcons. She was averaging 15 points per game entering Saturday.

“Velasco is really good at getting downhill, especially in the second half,” McCrae said. “I don’t think we did a great job on-ball on her. There were times we missed out on gaps, because in the end defense is a team effort, it takes all five players on the floor.”

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