Chippewa women fall in MAC quarterfinals to Toledo

Central Michigan guard Micaela Kelly walks off the court after losing to Toledo in the first round of the MAC Tournament March 11 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, OH.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a mostly empty Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the No. 1-seed Central Michigan women's basketball team fell just short in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinal. 

The Chippewas (23-7) lost to Toledo 78-71. CMU entered the game as the favorite, not only to win the game but to win the tournament, but couldn't put together a strong enough performance to defeat the No. 9-seed Rockets (14-17). 

After splitting the regular-season meetings between the two teams, they battled tough for four quarters. Both teams began the game slowly, but the Chippewas ended the first quarter with a 19-16 lead. 

"That was a tough game for us," head coach Heather Oesterle said. "I give a lot of credit to Toledo. I thought their physical play really bothered us from the start."

Once the second quarter began, the teams started to loosen up, but Central Michigan couldn't get many shots to fall. Junior forward Kyra Bussell was the lone exception for the team. Bussell ended the first half with 21 points, 13 of which came in the second quarter. 

Despite the slow start, the Chippewas held a five-point lead 39-34 heading into the second half. A trip to the semifinals was within their grasp with only 20 minutes to play.

The third quarter was the biggest difference, Toledo outscored CMU 20-5. From there the top-seeded Chippewas struggled to regain form. 

"I guess they picked up their intensity," Bussell said. "But also I underperformed, I'm going to put that on my shoulders.

"They figured something out, I don't know exactly what it was, but they were more aggressive than I was on the boards and that's something that I definitely let my teammates down here today."

Junior guard Micaela "Twin" Kelly hit two 3-pointers to bring the Rockets lead down to just six points, but the Rockets bounced back offensively and never relinquished their lead. 

"We got a little bit going in the fourth to try to come back after Toledo went on a little bit of a run," senior forward Gabi Bird said. "Ultimately, they went on a run and we couldn't catch back up, so we just have to come together a little better and play a little tougher."

Kelly finished the game with 21 points but was 6-of-20 from the field, including 4-of-9 from behind the arc. Bussell, who had 21 first-half points, managed only two points in the second half bringing her total for the game to 23 points. 

Freshman guard Molly Davis had nine points but had a poor shooting game going 2-of-10 from the field. 

"I think with (Bussell), I need to do a better job of getting her the ball in the second half," Oesterle said. "I thought, 'you know, going forward we're going to have to learn how to move the ball side to side.' A lot of times it got stuck in people's hands rather than trusting the fact that somebody else can score. I put that a lot on Molly and Twin to get in there and create a little bit, and then find our shooters like Gabi and (junior guard) Maddy (Watters)."

The Chippewas postseason hopes now rest in the hands of the NCAA selection committee. Their resume speaks for itself, as the team is currently ranked No.19 in RPI, but losing three of their last four games doesn't help their cause. 

Wednesday's game was played without fans after the MAC announced the men's and women's tournaments would be closed to the general public due to coronavirus concern