Women’s basketball wins 2018 MAC Tournament Championship
For the first time since 2013, the Central Michigan women’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Chippewas (29-4, 20-1 MAC) earned a 96-91 victory over No. 2 Buffalo (27-5, 18-3 MAC) in the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship March 10 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio behind a career-high 26 points from redshirt freshman guard Micaela Kelly.
"2018 Tournament champions," said CMU head coach Sue Guevara. "You just saw the two best teams in our league going at it. I could not be happier for our program and players."
Junior forward Reyna Frost, the MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player, opened the game with a mid-range jumper moments into the contest to set the tone for a back-and-forth offensive battle.
With 6:14 to play in the first quarter, junior guard Presley Hudson dropped in a tear-drop floater to give CMU an early 12-5 edge.
Three minutes after Hudson’s bucket, senior guard Cassie Breen drilled a 3-pointer, pushing CMU’s edge to 20-7. However, five-straight points from Buffalo made it just an eight-point deficit for the Bulls.
After the first quarter, Hudson had 11 points to help put Buffalo in a 12-point hole and start pacing the Chippewas to a title victory.
"It tastes very sweet," Hudson said. "This has been our goal since we got here. To be able to accomplish it is amazing."
Junior guard Cierra Dillard and senior forward Mariah Suchan kicked off Buffalo’s 9-0 run with 3:47 to play in the second quarter, cutting its deficit to 34-32. CMU freshman guard Maddy Watters stopped the run with a 3-pointer.
Just under the two-minute mark, Dillard hit a 3-pointer to tie the game, 37-37. With 54 seconds to play in the first half, Dillard gave the Bulls a 40-39 lead on another made basket from 3-point range.
As time expired in the first half, Hudson broke the ankles of sophomore guard Theresa Onwuka en route to a layup, giving CMU a 43-40 lead at halftime.
Following an opening second half layup from Buffalo, Kelly made back-to-back 3-pointers, delivering CMU a 49-42 edge over the Bulls with 8:23 remaining in the third quarter.
Senior forward Tinara Moore, the MAC Player of the Year, scored her first two points of the game with 4:36 to go in the third, pushing CMU’s leads to 56-49. On the next Buffalo possession, Dillard hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to four points.
Moore finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, but CMU was led by Kelly, who poured in 26 points, six rebounds and four assists.
"I feel like there's still more left (in me)," Kelly said. "It's a package that hasn't been opened yet."
Hudson added 26 points, five rebounds and four assists on 7-of-16 shooting from the field. Frost logged a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Frost nailed a 3-pointer for the Chippewas, giving them a 69-58 lead with 33 seconds to go in the third. At the buzzer, junior guard Autumn Jones cashed in on a 3-pointer, cutting Buffalo’s deficit to eight points heading into the fourth.
With 1:36 remaining, Buffalo sophomore forward Summer Hemphill picked off a pass from Breen and turned it into a layup on the other end, trimming CMU’s lead to six points, 86-80.
Hudson went 7-of-8 from the free throw line down the stretch, propelling CMU to a 96-91 championship victory over Buffalo and an automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
"It's been hard," Guevara said. "I love them and they know it. For what this team accomplished today, I can't say enough about them.
"I love this team."
The selection show for the 2018 NCAA Tournament takes place at 7 p.m. March 12. It can be viewed live on ESPN.
"I don't want to do the one-step in and one-step out (of the NCAA Tournament)," Guevara said. "I want to do the cha-cha (and stay in the NCAA Tournament). It is a dog fight day in and day out."
For Buffalo, the program will have to wait until the selection show to find out if it will be making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid.
"There is no doubt in my mind Buffalo is an at-large bid," Guevara said. "They've dominated. They are one of the top 64 teams in this country. I don't see how they couldn't be."