Led by double-figure efforts by junior guard Nicole Smart, senior guard Charnise Mothershed and sophomore center Allyssa Wall, the University of North Dakota women's basketball team tallied its first Great West Conference win of the season, posting a 65-55 victory over NJIT at the Fleisher Athletics Center.
With the win, North Dakota moved to an even 10-10 overall and 1-1 in the Great West while NJIT dropped to 8-12, 2-1 GWC. UND leads the all-time series against the Highlanders 6-0.
"I thought that we played very good defense and were able to take away their penetration," head coach Gene Roebuck said. "One of their post players knocked down some three's, but that was by design. Rather than go out and guard her on the outside, we wanted to make sure that we were helping to stop the penetration. Defensively, down the stretch, we really toughened up and made it hard for them to score."
Rayven Johnson put in the first basket of the game at 18:58, but a mere 11 seconds later, UND erased the deficit, and then quickly moved into a 5-2 lead as Smart drained her first three of the evening. Those five points started an eventual 16-5 run for North Dakota, leading it to a 16-7 advantage just inside the 12-minute mark.
Smart posted all 10 of her first half points during that run as she netted two three-pointers and a pair of pull-up jumpers.
With the help of a pair of three-pointers from Sarah Olson on the opposite end, NJIT used a quick 10-4 clip to pull within three points (20-17; 9:30).
However, North Dakota came up with a big answer as Wall and sophomore forward Megan Lauck (Shoreview, Minn.) each posted back-to-back baskets. Both of Wall's came down on the block, while Lauck cashed one in from the field and then banked in a three-pointer. With the addition of two points from redshirt freshman center Emily Evers (Grand Forks, N.D.), UND scored 11 unanswered points to take a 31-17 lead (5:31).
The Highlanders out-scored North Dakota 7-2 in the final five minutes of play, but UND held onto the lead. The Green and White went into the locker-room leading NJIT 33-24.
UND opened the second half with a 7-1 run to take its largest lead of the game - a 15-point advantage. The run was capped by a three-pointer from Charnise Mothershed.
Trailing 40-25, NJIT's Denisa Domiterova sank a pair from the free throw line and after a UND basket, drilled her lone three of the night. Junior guard Carly Rothfusz (Eden Prairie, Minn.) dropped in her own three on the other end, but the Highlanders answered with a 10-2 run to make it 47-40 with 8:01 remaining.
UND managed to keep the Highlanders at good distance until back-to-back baskets from Melanie Griffin cut UND's lead down to four (55-51). It was the closest NJIT had been to UND since 9:30 in the first half.
Sisters Charnay Mothershed (Sr., G, Phoenix, Ariz.) and Charnise Mothershed teamed up to help re-extend the margin, but Highlanders did not go down without a fight. With 57 seconds left in the game, 6-3 center Nicole Maticka drained her second three-pointer of the night to bring NJIT back within five (60-55). However, with time running down, the Highlanders were unable to make the easy shots and were force to send UND to the line.
A native of Ada, Minn., Smart led all players with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field, including two three-pointers, and a perfect 2-for-2 effort at the free throw line. She scored 10 of her points in the first half and was a key component in both of UND's big first half runs.
Mothershed finished 4-for-9 from the field, including two three-pointers, and went 2-for-5 at the free throw line to finish with 12 points. It was her second straight double-figure game, marking the first career two-game, double-digit streak for the Phoenix, Ariz., native.
Wall finished with 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the field, and with nine rebounds, fell just shy of a double-double. The North Sioux City, S.D., native pulled down eight defensive boards to help North Dakota win the rebounding battle 36-29.
North Dakota finished 23-for-54 (42.6 percent) from the field, 6-for-12 (50 percent) at three-point range, and 13-for-23 (56.5 percent) at the free throw line. The Green and White converted NJIT's 21 turnovers into 15 points and scored 21 points on second chances.
Maticka led NJIT with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting from the field and a 1-for-4 mark at the free throw line. The 6-3 center netted a team-high two three-pointers and brought down eight rebounds (six defensive). Domiterova scored five of her total eight points from the free line and Olson used a pair of three's and a field goal to finish with eight points of her own.
UND's strong defense held its opponent to under 50 percent shooting from the field for the 20th straight game. The Highlanders finished 18-for-44 (40.9 percent) from the field, 6-for-15 (40 percent) behind the arc, and 13-for-19 (68.4 percent) at the charity stripe.
"We just have to keep plugging away," said Roebuck. "We are not going to be a very pretty team, but that's just the way that we play. We need to keep shooting and we need to improve at the free throw line."
North Dakota will have another Great West Conference test on Saturday when it takes on reigning GWC Tournament champion Chicago State. Tipoff against the Cougars is slated for 2 p.m.