By Aren LeBrun, News Correspondent
The Northeastern Huskies women’s basketball team responded to last week’s back-to-back losses in dramatic fashion, edging out the Towson University Tigers with a 59-56 victory on Sunday at Solomon Court.
Senior guard Kashaia Cannon buried a pair of clutch free throws to ice the game with 17.2 seconds to play, bringing the Huskies to 5-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) and 12-8 overall.
The Huskies were led by the all-around play of senior guard Deanna Kerkhof, who scored 14 points in the game to go with six rebounds and three steals. Sophomore guard A’lece Mark continued her strong play across the stat sheet with 13 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Cannon also chipped in 11 points for the Huskies, including a pair of free throws with 17.2 seconds left to seal the win.
Junior guard Tanisha McTiller led the Tigers with a big double-double, recording 30 points and 12 rebounds. Her 30-point outburst was the second-highest scored by a single player against Northeastern this season, behind Drexel University’s Hollie Mershon’s 33-point outing.
Northeastern’s high scoring offense was held in check by the tight defense of Towson from the opening tip to the final buzzer, as the Huskies shot a mere 32.2 percent from the floor. The first half rebounding numbers were virtually even due in part to the stellar play of junior center Jewel Tunstull, who grabbed 11 boards in the first half.
Neither team could gain much of an advantage over the other in the first 20 minutes of play. The biggest offensive difference came from behind the three-point line. The Huskies hit five shots from deep while the Tigers were 0-for-7. Mercier, Cannon and Kerkhof all cashed in during the first half.
Despite the 15-point advantage from beyond the arc, Towson was kept in the game by strong first-half play from McTiller as well as senior forward Michelle Peebles, who scored all 12 of her points in the period.
After Mark hit an off-balance jumper to give the Huskies a nine-point lead, McTiller answered with a difficult floater on the baseline. The Tigers’ defense then forced a jump ball in the post to secure the last possession of the half, during which time Peebles hit a layup with time expiring to cut the Huskies’ halftime lead to five points.
Towson carried this momentum into the second half, cutting the deficit to one-point off layups from McTiller and sophomore forward Markell Smith. Tough defense from the Tigers prevented Northeastern from scoring for nearly three minutes into the second half.
Cannon finally snapped the scoring drought, nailing a three-pointer off a crisp feed from Kerkhof. Kerkhof followed her assist with a pair of free throws to push the lead back to six.
“She’s the glue,” head coach Daynia La-Force said of Kerkhof, who was honored before the game for reaching the 1,000 career point milestone. “She demands a lot of attention out on the court which opens it up for everyone else out there. I’m sure it’s a joy to play with her.”
The Tigers went on an 8-0 run capped off with a McTiller hoop. Kerkhof ended the run with a layup on the other end, and then Mark began to catch fire. The sophomore guard nailed back-to-back three-pointers to force a Towson timeout. She hit a third out of the timeout to give her nine consecutive points for the Huskies.
“I knew that we weren’t hitting shots in the first half,” Mark said. “So I was just telling myself that every shot I took in the second half needed to go in.”
Despite the Husky lead, McTiller would not let the game get away from Towson. The junior took complete control of her team’s offensive output, at one point scoring 15 straight points for the Tigers.
After a layup and a pair of free throws from junior forward Nyree Williams cut the deficit to three, McTiller knocked in a jump shot to make it a 57-56 game.
Cannon was then fouled and sent to the line with 17.2 seconds on the clock. The senior tri-captain knocked down both ends of the one-and-one to give the Huskies a three point, 59-56 lead.
Freshman guard Dominique Johnson managed to get off a contested three-pointer from the corner, but the shot hit nothing but air and the Huskies held on to the ball for the remaining seconds.
The win was a turning point victory for Northeastern, as the team returns to the winning track after back-to-back losses against top-tier conference opponents Drexel University and University of Delaware and back in the race to move up in CAA standings.
“Those last two games, those teams were real tough,” Mark said. “But we know these next ten games have to be wins if we want to be ready for the conference tournament.”
The Huskies are now 5-4 in the CAA, putting them a half game behind Hofstra University who they will face on the road on Thursday for sole rights to fifth seed. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.