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Balanced CMU offense too much for Buffalo in 79-63 win

Senior guard Maddy Watters directs her Central Michigan teammates during a game at Michigan State on Dec. 18 in the Breslin Center.

Forty seconds into the fourth quarter of Central Michigan's matchup with Buffalo, Bull forward Loren Christie walked to the bench after picking up her fifth foul. The Bulls, who have a reputation for bullying opponents with their plethora of forwards, would have to go the rest of the way without one of their starters. 

The Chippewas took advantage. 

Junior Jahari Smith scored on the ensuing possession, then again two minutes later. After the Chippewas were quiet in the paint for three quarters, the inside-out attack came alive. CMU was halt various Buffalo rallies throughout and walk out of Alumni Arena victorious, winning 79-63. 

Both coach Heather Oesterle and freshman forward Rachel Loobie emphasizing the Chippewas' preparation for Buffalo's physicality in pregame radio interviews, CMU seemed prepared for the inside attack early on. Forwards Elena Gaba and Loren Christie were held scoreless, however Buffalo was able to stay close thanks to the scoring efforts of Fair. 

Buffalo was equally prepared for the Chippewas' inside game, allowing Chippewa senior forward Kyra Bussell to take outside shots. Bussell took a team-high 11 shots in the first half, including seven from beyond the arc. She made two of those 3-pointers and finished the half with seven points. Senior guard Maddy Watters hit a late 3-pointer, and a Bussell bucket gave CMU a five-point lead at halftime, 31-26. 

The Bulls were led by Fair, who scored 10 in the first half after leaving briefly with what appeared to be an eye injury. Senior guard Hanna Hall committed three first half turnovers, but freshman guard and Michigan native Cheyene McEvans offset her struggles with five points in 17 minutes before the break. 

After a Bussell 3-pointer and Smith's layup pushed the Chippewa lead to 10 to start the third quarter, Fair scored seven straight points to trim the lead to one possession. However, CMU wasn't fazed, as Kelly and Watters knocked down back-to-back triples to push the lead back to nine with 4:15 remaining in the third. 

Watters would add another 3-pointer and a jumper to break into double figures and keep the Chippewas in front. Buffalo went on a 7-0 run to get back within five, but redshirt sophomore Annika Weekes grabbed two offensive rebounds, both of which drew fouls, and knocked down free throws to stop the charge. Kelly drilled a 3-pointer late in the quarter to move into fifth place in CMU history in made 3-pointers and CMU took a 10-point advantage to the final quarter. 

In that final quarter, the Bulls would feel Christie's absence as Smith and Weekes grabbed offensive rebounds and scored around the rim. Fair and company made a late push, but Watters knocked down a fifth 3-pointer to seal the deal. 

Fair scored a game high 30, but only one other Bull was in double figures. Meanwhile, all five of CMU's starters were in double figures led by Watters, who scored 21. Davis added 16 and Kelly had 13. Bussell had 10 and Smith narrowly missed a double-double, scoring 11 points and adding eight rebounds. 

The Chippewas return to action Jan. 13 at Northern Illinois.