It was a matchup between Northern Illinois' Courtney Woods and Ball State's Moriah Monaco — two potential Mid-American Conference Player of the Year finalists on Saturday afternoon at Worthen Arena. 

And even though Woods came away with more points, Monaco's team got the victory.

At several different points the two stars traded baskets every possession in Ball State's 81-72 win in front of nearly 4,000 in attendance.

"What a great game at Worthen Arena, huh?" Ball State head coach Brady Sallee said. "A tremendous win and I think our girls enjoyed watching that and came out right out of the shoot were ready to go and played hard. We knew Northern was going to be every bit of what we saw."

Out of the half, Ball State (17-3, 6-3 MAC) went on a 6-0 run to take a 14-point lead, but Northern would respond in-kind, scoring eight straight to cut the lead back to six.

And that's how things would stay most of the rest of the way. The Cardinals kept themselves comfortably ahead until late in the fourth quarter when Woods and the Huskies came within 75-72 with 24 seconds to play, forcing Sallee to take a timeout.

"If you get so caught up in [stopping Courtney Woods], you forget that the job is to win the game," Sallee said. "So as long as we were continuing to make her earn them and we were doing what we had to do to keep them at bay [that was alright]."

At that point, the Ball State defense stiffened, not allowing Northern Illinois (10-10, 2-7 MAC) to score the rest of the way. First, NIU freshman guard Gabby Nikitinaite was called for an illegal screen out of the inbounds as she was trying to allow Woods a look from deep. 

Then, both junior guard Carmen Grande and senior guard Frannie Frazier would pick up late steals to help seal the victory as the Cardinals made enough free throws late to walk away with the win.

"We haven't played in a lot of games where we've been in situations where we had to call timeout, advance the ball, execute," Sallee said. "We had to get the ball in and make free throws and we haven't played a ton of those. So all of this is good. You can try to simulate it in practice but it's just not the same."

The game started an hour late, due to the Ball State men's basketball game versus Akron going to a pair of overtimes. Sallee said he knew his team was ready and allowed them to stay loose in the locker room while cheering on the men's team.

"The good thing is, our men's team and our women's team are so close that it was easy [to wait to play] because our girls just wanted to root for them," Sallee said. "So they became fans in that situation and I just let them."

Grande played all 40 minutes for Ball State, scoring 11 and dishing out a game-high 12 assists. Sophomore guard Jasmin Samz also gave the Cardinals a boost down the stretch. The Wisconsin-native scored 10 points, all in the game's final seven minutes.

The Cardinals were without their leading rebounder senior forward Destiny Washington, but that didn't stop them from outrebounding NIU 49-44. Freshman forward Oshlynn Brown had 15 boards to lead the way.

"I think everyone really stuck up," Monaco said. "[Washington] is probably one of our best rebounders and we knew that when she got hurt. I think that everyone was like, 'Now we can't rely on Destiny, we have to go get it ourselves.'"

Monaco's 29 points would set a new season high for Ball State, who took an early 36-18 lead, but let things slip away near the half to allow Northern Illinois to crawl back into it. Her 10 rebounds also gave Monaco her second straight double-double.

The Huskies finished the first half on a 12-2 run to make it a 38-30 game at halftime. Northern Illinois has now lost seven straight games, all by nine points or less.

Next up, Ball State hosts Akron at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Worthen Arena.

Contact Sam Barloga with comments at sabarloga@bsu.edu or on Twitter @SamBarloga.