CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University had the last run in a game filled with streaks. As a result the Salukis claimed an 82-73 win over Northern Illinois in the opening game of the Compass Challenge.
The Compass Challenge pits Illinois’ four directional schools against each other. SIU plays Eastern Illinois at 3:30 p.m. today. Eastern earned a 64-62 comeback win over Western in Friday’s opening game.
After seeing a couple double-digit leads evaporate during the course of the game, SIU entered the fourth quarter Friday trailing 56-55. However, the Salukis closed strong, outscoring NIU 8-0 over the final 2:27.
The Salukis opened a seven-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter, only to see the Huskies close to within three points. Northern seemed to be gaining momentum when Kristen Nelson drained a trey from the corner with 3:46 to play.
It appeared as if SIU would come up empty on the possession. Point guard Brittney Patrick seemed trapped at the top of the key before forcing her way through a pair of defenders with less than five seconds on the shot clock. After creating space for herself, she appeared free to take a runner in the lane. Instead, she kicked the ball to the sideline where Nelson managed to get off the shot before time expired.
It was one of 11 assists for Patrick.
“Kris has a quick enough release,” said SIU guard Makenzie Silvey, who finished with 23 points. “If she knows how much time is on the clock, she knows how fast she has to get it off. She was able to knock it down. Britt did a good job of penetrating and drawing the defense. That was really a game changer for us because that gave us a little more room. We were a little more comfortable.”
Still, the Huskies wouldn’t go away. Point guard Myia Starks put together a conventional three-point play at the 2:26 mark, pulling NIU to within 74-73. However, the Huskies would not score again.
NIU missed its last seven shots and had a critical turnover in the final 2:26.
“You have to be able to handle someone’s run,” said SIU coach Cindy Stein. “I wasn’t sure we were handling it real well or not, but we finally came up and got some stops. We’ve talked about defense a long time. I told them if we can play defense like we did that last minute, minute and a half, we could be really good.”
Offensively, the Salukis answered with back-to-back treys by Abby Brockmeyer and Nelson. The Salukis had 14 3-pointers on the night, six by Nelson and three by Brockmeyer. Brockmeyer had a game-high 26 points and 11 rebounds.
“I took the outside shot a lot more,” she said. “I hit a couple of threes which is something I don’t normally do. I think that opened up my inside game as well. I felt like I was more aggressive tonight. I just felt like the shot was always there for me tonight.”
“I think the threes probably got us going,” Stein said. “The other part is, 22 assists with 28 baskets, and Brittney Patrick having 11 of that. That’s a really good game for Britt, and she had a really tough defensive assignment.
“With Abby, Kris and Mak, when they’re hitting on the perimeter like that, and we still have Nicole Martin inside … that’s the kind of style we’d like to have. It was good to see that sporadically throughout the game.”
The Compass Challenge concludes today with Western and Northern Illinois squaring off at 1:30 p.m. SIU plays Eastern at 3:30 p.m.
“We just got together as coaches,” Stein said of the concept. “Honestly, Western and Northern Illinois coaches were talking about it and we thought it was a great idea. I think it gives the kids something to play for. We’re all friends and it’s fun. You know you’re going to play against well-coached disciplined teams. It makes you better.”