DeKALB, Ill. - The University of Toledo women's basketball team had been a .500 squad on the road this season.
And it had a .500 record in 10 road games against Northern Illinois.
Still, when the Rockets carried a nine-point lead into the locker room at halftime of last night's Mid-American Conference West Division matchup at the Convocation Center, coach Mark Ehlen had reason to be optimistic. His team was 11-0 when leading at the intermission.
But that's not the case anymore.
NIU, which trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, outscored the Rockets 45-24 in the final 20 minutes en route to a 69-57 victory.
“I just think we lost our composure, we lost our focus and the intensity we played with in the first half,'' Ehlen said.
Jennifer Youngblood, who averaged just 6.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in six previous games against the Rockets, finished with 15 points, along with Lindsay Secrest. Monique Davis added 14 points and Kristan Knake 12 for NIU (12-14, 8-7 MAC), which also beat UT 58-48 last year in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals.
Last night's loss dropped the Rockets (18-8, 11-4) into second place behind Ball State (18-7, 12-3). If the Cardinals beat Eastern Michigan at home today, they will wrap up the division title.
“I'm disappointed because it derails our chances of winning a regular-season championship, unless Ball State loses,'' Ehlen said.
Junior guard Kelly Walker scored 20 of UT's first 37 points, but just two of its last 20 to finish with a game-high 22. Point guard Mary Blessing added 16 for the Rockets, who fell to 6-7 on the road despite leading 33-24 at halftime.
Walker made 6 of 10 shots in the first half, including 4 of 6 treys, for 16 points, as the Rockets shot 40.6 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes (13 of 32) and 50 percent from 3-point range (5 of 10). They shot just 25 percent from the field in the second half (7 of 28) and 23.1 percent (3 of 13) from behind the arc.
“In the second half, I didn't have as many open looks,'' Walker said. “I had a few, but wasn't able to knock them down.''
NIU, which shot 60.9 percent from the field in the second half (14 of 23), took the lead for good at 50-48 on Secrest's 3-pointer at 7:30.