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Chippewa women use second half rally to earn senior day win over NIU


Bolingbrook, Illinois senior forward Jahari Smith snags a rebound against Northern Illinois on March 6 in McGuirk Arena. The Chippewas won 74-68. 

Sports editor Austin Chastain and staff reporter Christian Booher recap Saturday's 74-68 win for CMU's women's team over NIU in McGuirk Arena. Austin Chastain | Sports editor and Christian Booher

Micaela Kelly, Maddy Watters, Kyra Bussell got a chance to celebrate Senior Day and all of their accomplishments at CMU. 

Kelly, Watters -- both guards -- and Bussell -- a forward -- form a group that had won 92 games, 41 at home, and missed only a combined five games coming into the game. 

The unit has also been responsible for three consecutive Mid-American Conference outright regular season championships, a MAC Tournament title and a run to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2018. 

Once again playing without their entire freshman class and just eight players, the Chippewas were faced with an uphill battle in the speedy, hot shooting Northern Illinois Huskies, who beat CMU in their first matchup back in January. 

CMU trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half but rallied back to win, 74-68, Saturday afternoon in McGuirk Arena. 

"That was a good way to go out," coach Heather Oesterle said. "Senior day, you know, we ran into a little adversity in the first half. They were shooting the ball really well. But then we just chipped away at their lead."

Key moments

Kelly stole the ball on the game's opening possession and tore down the court for a layup. After that, however, NIU (12-11, 10-8 MAC) got hot from the field. The Huskies scored 12 of the game's next 13 points and forced a time out from the Chippewas (15-8, 13-6).

Kelly and company tried to keep it close, but the Huskies' hot shooting was too much. Janae Poisson and Mikayla Brandon proved to be tough to stop, pushing the lead to as many as 19 in the second quarter. The Chippewas cut into that lead with three straight 3-pointers and made it a 10-point game at the half, trailing 37-27 at the break. 

"Even though we had a bad start, it was about keep fighting," Kelly said. "I know that we wanted to leave our mark."

CMU continued to cut into the lead in the third. Kelly found Watters for a corner triple, and the Chippewas got within five with 4:56 remaining in the quarter. NIU's Chelby Koker drilled a 3-pointer to push the lead back to eight, but Kelly went coast to coast with a layup to make it a six-point game heading into the fourth.

Watters energized the team to start the fourth, finding redshirt junior Kalle Martinez for an open triple before hitting one of her own to tie the game at 55 with 8:38 remaining. The Chippewas took the lead on sophomore guard Molly Davis' layup and pushed it to four on a triple from redshirt sophomore guard Anika Weekes. 

"It was fun out there," Watters said. "My teammates did a good job finding me and I was trying to open up the court for everybody."

NIU went nearly six minutes without a point, allowing CMU to grow its lead to eight. NIU would draw within six, 70-64, but the experience of the Chippewas was too much in crunch time. 

Key stats

NIU hit seven of its 10 team 3-pointers in the first half. As a team, the Huskies shot 23-for-56 (41 percent) while the Chippewas finished 27-for-55 (49 percent). 

The Huskies out rebounded the Chippewas by a single board, winning the margin 31-30. CMU committed just 11 turnovers while NIU committed 14.

Key players

Kelly led the Chippewas with 25 points and six assists. Davis had 17 points and Watters added 14. Junior center Jahari Smith had nine rebounds to lead her team. 

NIU was led by Koker's game-high 27 points. Poisson had 12 points and Brandon had nine. 

Up next

CMU will serve as the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament, which begins Wednesday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio. The Chippewas will rematch against the Huskies -- the No. 7 seed in the tournament.