'I love this team': Women's basketball wins MAC Tournament, headed to NCAA Tournament
After Mid-American Conference Tournament disappointments in the last two seasons, the women's basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament as MAC Champions.
CMU, in the program's 50th anniversary season, earned a MAC Tournament Championship for the first time since 2013. With the 96-91 win, the Chippewas earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The championship game was a rematch with Buffalo, who beat CMU in the 2016 final. Last season, No. 1-seeded CMU was upset in the first round by Western Michigan.
Junior forward Reyna Frost was named MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player. Frost, senior forward Tinara Moore and redshirt freshman Micaela Kelly were named to the All-Tournament Team.
“I have to thank my teammates and my coaches for helping me get that award,” Frost said. “They helped prepare me for these games.”
Kelly scored a career-high 26 points, going 5-of-6 from 3-point range. She added six rebounds and four assists. Junior guard Presley Hudson also finished with 26 points, five rebounds and four assists in the championship game.
"It tastes very sweet," Hudson said. "This has been our goal since we got here. To be able to accomplish it is amazing."
The Chippewas' title-winning journey started in the regular season when they only lost one MAC game, ending with a 17-1 conference record. The dominance earned the Chippewas a first round bye in the MAC Tournament.
In the quarterfinal round of the tournament, head coach Sue Guevara led her team into Quicken Loans Arena to play Eastern Michigan, a team CMU beat twice in the regular season.
Against EMU, the Chippewas watched 31-10 lead with 3:08 left in the first half dwindle to a one-point edge with just over a minute to play. Late free throws from Frost sealed the game, earning CMU a 67-64 victory and a matchup with No. 4 Miami (Ohio) in the MAC Tournament semifinals March 9.
“It’s March,” Guevara said. “It’s survive and advance. Eastern Michigan gave us everything and we almost didn’t handle (it)."
Earlier in the regular season, the Chippewas took down the Miami twice.
With 7:05 remaining in the first half, CMU owned a 27-12 lead, but Miami battled back to lead by one point with 1:55 left in the game. A short corner jumper from Frost proved to be the game-winning basket.
“I was playing in the zone and I didn’t want to go home,” Frost said. “I had a few big players down low and (senior guard Cassie Breen) made two free throws to seal the deal for us.”
CMU made it three wins in a row against Miami with a 61-58 takedown of the RedHawks to send the Chippewas to the title game against Buffalo on March 10.
CMU entered the championship game riding a seven-game win streak. Though Guevara didn't care what team they faced in the title game, the Chippewas played against the only team in the conference who found a way to beat them during the regular season.
Buffalo head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said she wanted to take on CMU in the final.
“Playing against Central Michigan, where we went 1-1 during the regular season, is an unbelievable opportunity,” Legette-Jack said, after beating WMU in the semifinal round to reach the championship game. “They’ve done an amazing job throughout the regular season.”
Hudson scored a team-high 11 points in the first quarter for CMU in the MAC Championship. The Chippewas jumped out to a 26-14 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Buffalo outscored CMU 26-17 in the second quarter. The Bulls took their first lead with 32 seconds left in the half. Kelly hit two free throws as CMU regained the lead before halftime, 43-40.
Kelly kept scoring to start the second half. She hit two straight 3-pointers to give CMU a 51-44 lead two minutes into the third quarter.
Moore, the MAC Player of the Year, broke Crystal Bradford's CMU single-season point record in the third quarter, scoring her 589th point to give CMU a seven-point lead, 69-61, heading into the fourth quarter. Moore hit three straight CMU shots to help CMU keep the 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
CMU and Buffalo traded free throws in the final minute. When the clock hit zero, the Chippewas stormed the court with emotion — accomplishing their season-long goal of making the NCAA Tournament with a 96-91 win.
The Chippewas lived up to the hype of being picked to win the MAC Tournament in the preseason. In 2016, CMU fell to Buffalo in overtime in the MAC Tournament title game, while being eliminated in the first round last year to rival Western Michigan.
This time, however, Guevara and her team got it done.
"It's been hard," Guevara said of her team. "I love (the team) and they know it. For what this team accomplished today, I can't say enough about them."
The men's team had a much different outcome in the 2018 MAC Tournament.
The men defeated Bowling Green, 81-77, in overtime in the first round game at McGuirk Arena after senior night was delayed due to the March 2 double homicide on campus. This was the first MAC Tournament game McGuirk Arena has ever hosted, even though CMU was second-to-last in the MAC West Division standings when the regular season concluded.
In the overtime win, senior forward Cecil Williams scored 18 points, pulled down six rebounds and added six assists. CMU opened the overtime period with seven straight points, and the Falcons could never catch up. The Chippewas punched their ticket to Cleveland to compete in the quarterfinal round of the MAC Tournament.
No. 8 CMU faced off with No. 1 Buffalo in the quarterfinal round. Like many games this season, the Chippewas fell behind early, scrambled to stay in the game and fell off in the final minutes. Sophomore Kevin McKay provided some offense in the first half, then Williams went on a run just before halftime.
"(It was) just another situation where if we hit a few shots here or there, we win that game, and (if) we hit some free throws we missed, we (would have won) that," McKay said.
Head coach Keno Davis has a 95-95 overall record in six seasons, and 42-65 record in MAC play.
The Chippewas finished the MAC Tournament with a 19-14 overall record. Last season, the Chippewas didn't make it past the first round of the tournament.
CMU will head to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, starting First Round play at noon March 12 at Fort Wayne.
Seniors Williams, forward Luke Meyer, guard Josh Kozinski and forward John McCarty will not be returning to the team next year due to graduation.
"You know, it's hard knowing that this might be my last game, but I'm proud of everyone I've ever played with," Meyer said following the Buffalo loss. "All my brothers I've played with are like family and I really appreciate everyone."
The Chippewas will return multiple key players in junior guard Shawn Roundtree and sophomore forward David DiLeo. CMU will also return McKay, who averaged 11.9 points per game during the regular season coming off the bench.