Eastern to host NIU in season opener


Sean Hastings

Senior guard Grace Lennox cuts through the lane before dishing off a pass to sophomore Jennifer Nehls, who laid it in Nov. 3 against Indiana State in Lantz Arena. Eastern has it regular season opener Friday against Northern Illinois in Lantz Arena.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

A goal the Eastern women’s basketball team and head coach Matt Bollant set for themselves at the onset of the season was to be a better defensive team than they were last season.

The team will have no better opportunity to check their progress toward this goal than Friday when they host one of the top offensive teams in the country.

Eastern will welcome Northern Illinois, who ranked 5th in the country last season in scoring offense, to Lantz Arena for its regular season opener.

The Huskies averaged 85.1 points per game last season and return three players from that team that averaged in double figures for points scored.

Bollant believes that Northern Illinois is better offensively than any team in the Ohio Valley Conference and expects them to be in the top half of the offensive rankings again this season.

“It’s exciting for our players. In that you are playing against somebody that’s better than anybody else in the OVC all year,” Bollant said. “So, if you can guard this team, you can probably give yourself a shot. Now, it is not going to be easy and certainly playing them the first game. But, it’s a great challenge and hopefully our players are excited for the challenge.”

Headlining the Northern Illinois offense is one of the NCAA’s most potent three-point threats, junior guard Courtney Woods. Last season Woods averaged 16.6 point per game and five rebounds, but where she really scrambles opposing defenses is her ability to shoot from beyond the arc.

Last year Woods set a school record with 105 three-pointers-made, good enough for 11th in the country. She also became just the 6th player in the history of the Mid-American Conference to make over 100 threes in a season.

“Coaches knew she could shoot it, so they’re trying to stop it and didn’t,” Bollant said of Woods. “So, can we figure it out? Especially in the first game it’s hard to guard somebody this good offensively.”

The Huskies top tier offense will challenge the Panthers not only defensively but on offense as well. Typically, Eastern likes to be aggressive and run on offense, but Bollant says that style will not work against this Northern team.

“We don’t want the game to be 105-100. We want the game to probably be in the 70’s tomorrow and generally I want to run, I want to push, but this team tomorrow is better at that than we are, so we don’t want to get caught trying to play their game and beat them at what they do best.”

One of the bigger concerns Bollant has is the fact that Northern Illinois is a better offense than even most of the veterans on the team have faced in their careers.

“You know Jalisha (Smith) has played in nine games really before this year and Halle (Stull) and Carmen (Tellez) have not started many games at all. So, we are just not very experienced,” Bollant said. “Can we rise to up and kind of see what is happening and can we play like a veteran team even though we have not really played a lot of games.”

Northern Illinois opened up its regular season on Nov. 4 against Benedictine University. The Huskie offense was on full display in the game as they won 96-28.

Eastern plans on using the same lineup against Northern Illinois they used in their first two exhibition games, however, freshmen Taylor Steele will be the first player off the bench against the Huskies. Steele scored 11 points and made three three-pointers in the Panthers’ last exhibition game against Rose-Hulman.

The game between Eastern and Northern Illinois will begin 6 p.m. Friday at Lantz Arena.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]