Three takeaways: What we learned from CMU WBB's exhibition win

Bolingbrook senior forward Jahari Smith plays tough defense against SVSU on Thursday, Nov. 4 at McGuirk Arena.

It was a lot closer than it needed to be, perhaps.

Central Michigan escaped its lone exhibition game with a victory over Saginaw Valley State, winning 69-67 with a last second defensive stand. 

The Chippewas, playing for the first time in the post-Micaela Kelly era, were far from perfect. There were bright spots, running out to a double digit second half lead and grabbing important rebounds as that same lead dwindled. 

However, there were plenty of lowlights. The Chippewas struggled to shoot from outside, while their defense struggled to prevent the Cardinals from getting open looks. 

At the end of the day, though, a win is a win. This one won’t count, but it allows coach Heather Oesterle to see what needs improving before her team welcomes in Georgia Tech for the season opener at 6 p.m. Tuesday. 

Here are three things we learned from the Chippewas’ exhibition victory:

Anika Weekes, Jahari Smith filling valuable roles offensively

With Kelly gone, junior guard Molly Davis will naturally slide into the top scoring role. However, the production from Kelly’s classmates, Maddy Watters and Kyra Bussell, are also gone.

Weekes and Smith are two players who primarily held defensive-based roles last season, yet emerged as key offensive pieces down the stretch. Both will need to continue growing offensively to help this team stay on top. 

The duo finished as the top two scorers for the Chippewas, as Weekes poured in a game-high 17 and Smith finished with a double-double, notching 11 points and 10 rebounds. It was Weekes, a redshirt junior from Toronto, who scored the go-ahead bucket off a putback after SVSU had rallied to take a late lead. 

“She’s playing well for us,” Oesterle said. “She plays with a ton of confidence. We told her, if she can get us 6-to-8 garbage points, that’s kind of her role. She hit a three tonight. I thought she played well tonight.” 

Smith, hailing from Bollingbrook, Illinois, is expected to earn a double-double each time she takes the floor. She didn’t disappoint Thursday, coming up big with crucial rebounds. 

“I thought it was ugly, but we played through it,” Smith said. “There’s obviously a lot of things we need to clean up on: Turnovers, guarding somebody, containing somebody on the defensive end.” 

Freshmen up and down in debut

Oesterle is breaking in five freshmen, three of which saw action in the exhibition. With Carlee Crabtree sidelined with an injury, the Chippewas were nine deep Thursday. Freshmen Rebekah Gordon and Karrington Gordon, along with sophomore Maryama Turkstra, didn’t see action. 

The three freshmen who did play, guards Lisa Tesson, Tiana Timpe and Hanna Knoll, had ups and downs. Timpe and Knoll both were members of the starting lineup, while Tesson was the first guard off the bench. 

Timpe, a knockdown shooter from Stockton, Ill., recorded her only three points via free throws. 

“She’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Oesterle said. “She was not hitting tonight. I thought she forced some things at the beginning of the game.” 

Knoll served as a combo-guard, functioning to either play off Davis or take her off the ball. Knoll had several nice moments attacking the basket, but her ball movement was not up to par. 

“She hit a few shots for us, but she was forcing things,” Oesterle said. “I like the ball to be moving offensively and I thought it got stuck in her hands a few times.” 

Tesson is a pass-first point guard by trade, but hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter for the Chippewas. Her struggles came on defense, as she had a tough time getting through the Cardinals’ screens which led to open shots. 

“I thought Lisa did a really good job getting the ball up the floor,” Oesterle said. “She’s got some speed on her. I think Lisa’s (issue) was the urgency on the defensive end, which hurt her a little bit (and) hurt us a little bit.” 

Patience key with young group

The five freshmen aren’t the only players dealing with inexperience. Of the four 2020 recruits, only forward Rachel Loobie logged over 100 minutes last season. None of the four were asked to score much last season, which could change heading into this year. 

Crabtree and Turkstra didn’t play Thursday, leaving just Loobie and forward Sydney Graber as the only members of the class in action. Loobie brings athleticism, while Graber has the physicality and scoring prowess. 

Perhaps the most interesting development was a lineup that featured Loobie, along with Tesson, Davis, Weekes and senior Kalle Martinez. This unit rolled out a full-court trap, something Oesterle experimented with down the stretch of the regular season last year. 

Loobie and Graber can be catalysts in the Chippewas’ season, as their combination of athleticism and scoring can create problems for opponents. Throw in contributions from the freshmen, and CMU could be right where it needs to be.

Smith, a senior, has taken on responsibility to help mold the young forwards. She knows this process won’t come to fruition over night. 

“I think we’ve got a lot of maturing to do,” Smith said. “I’m gonna focus on my sophomores first because they didn’t really get the experience last year and play the big people like Georgia Tech or Michigan. Definitely a lot of maturing, especially on the defensive end. But we’ll get there.”