Every time Ball State women's basketball made a play, Northern Illinois answered.

The Cardinals (14-7, 7-2 MAC) lost to the Huskies (15-5, 8-1 MAC) 101-96 Jan. 28 to fall to second place in the Mid-American Conference West Division.

"This was a game that every possession was monumental. Even in the first half, it felt like every possession was monumental," head coach Brady Sallee said. "And then when you get in the third quarter, when you get in the fourth, it was like every single play was a game-changer. That's a lot of pressure for these kids to play through, and that's where I credit Northern because they made those plays in those situations."

Ball State stats

Shooting: 38-86 (44.2 percent)

3-point shooting: 10-34 (29.4 percent)

Rebounds: 40 (20 offensive, 20 defensive)

Assists: 25

Turnovers: 10

Northern Illinois stats

Shooting: 37-66 (56.1 percent)

3-point shooting: 13-25 (52.0 percent)

Rebounds: 39 (10 offensive, 29 defensive)

Assists: 25

Turnovers: 18

Down by one with 7:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, junior forward Moriah Monaco hit a mid-range jumper to give the Cardinals the 77-76 lead.

Northern Illinois sophomore Janae Poisson countered with a 3-pointer to retake the lead, and over the next four minutes the Cardinals and Huskies traded shots:

Senior Cardinals center Renee Bennett scores, then NIU senior Ally Lehman responds. 81-79.

Bennett makes a layup, then sophomore Renee Sladek retakes the lead. 83-81.

Bennett again, then NIU is back in front after a basket from senior Cassidy Glenn. 85-83.

"That's where you start feeling the pressure," Bennett said. "You need to get a stop. Every basket, every shot that you shoot, it has to go in. It needs to count, you have to make it count."

Ball State senior guard Jill Morrison hit the next jumper to tie the game, then NIU freshman Abby Wollacott scored. 87-85.

But that time, the Huskies were done trading shots. They extended the lead after Glenn scored again with 3:37 left, and the Cardinals trailed for the rest of the game.

Six Cardinals scored double-digit points: Monaco (23), Bennett (16), Morrison (12), sophomore guard Carmen Grande (12), senior guard Calyn Hosea (11) and sophomore guard Destiny Washington (10). Ball State also outscored NIU 50-30 in the paint and only turned the ball over 10 times.

Grande added 10 assists to her point total for a double-double, but Lehman (18 points, 11 assists) was two rebounds away from a triple-double.

The Huskies also hit 13 of their 25 3-point attempts (52.0 percent) while the Cardinals were 10-34 (29.4 percent) and just 3-16 in the second half.

"We understand that some nights they're going to fall, and some nights when they don't you've got to be able to lean on something else," Sallee said. "For most of the season, we've leaned on our defense, and we've been able to stop a team when we haven't made a ton of threes."

Ball State led 25-19 after the first quarter and 46-44 at halftime, but NIU outscored Ball State 57-50 in the second half after going 20-31 from the floor, and 8-10 from beyond the arc.

"That was the fun part of the game, too," Sallee said. "It was on the edge of your seat, every shot was huge, every play was huge. I would hope our kids had a ball playing a game like that, even though they're madder than heck right now."

The Cardinals' next game is at 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at Akron.