'One percent more': Women's basketball knocks off Miami (Ohio) without head coach, top scorer
After struggling to find a rhythm throughout the season, Central Michigan (4-14, 2-7) women’s basketball went into its matchup with Miami (Ohio) shorthanded.
Without head coach Heather Oesterle, leading-scorer Molly Davis and senior Kalle Martinez, the Chippewas ended their six-game losing streak with a 70-59 win over the RedHawks in McGuirk Arena on Wednesday.
In Oesterle’s absence, fifth-year assistant coach Courtney Shelton stepped in as head coach.
“I’m so proud of this team right now,” Shelton said. “We talked about it. With Molly Davis and Kalle Martinez out, just that next woman up mentality. I think they all stepped their game up, and we got production out of just about everybody who played today. We keep telling this team just to keep getting better, keep working. To have that performance and score 70 points without Molly Davis on the floor is huge for us, that means it’s going to give some other people confidence and hopefully keep us going.”
Going into the game, the Chippewas expected to be without Oesterle and Martinez. Davis was a different story. Unsure if she would suit up, Davis worked with the training staff during the early shoot-around but was ultimately ruled out.
“Molly was a game-time decision,” Shelton said. "Hopefully, (we can) get her some rehab these next few days and have her back this Saturday.”
With Davis and Martinez out of the rotation, Shelton made a simple request of the team.
“Especially during a year like we’re having again, where people just aren’t going to be around and you just have to have that next woman-up mentality,” Shelton said. “We talked this week, I told the team, just give me one percent more, everybody as an individual, just give me one percent more, and as a group that’s gonna go a long way.”
When the first quarter began, CMU immediately found an offensive rhythm by exploiting a mismatch in the paint.
“We knew we wanted to go inside to (Smith) quite a bit, just for her to have an inside presence,” Shelton said. “I thought we had a good matchup with her inside, so we ran quite a bit for her to get low-post touches. She had a great performance today, really stepped up for us.”
CMU’s defensive intensity and game plan frustrated the RedHawks throughout the game. But, after trailing for 34 minutes, Miami cut the deficit to two, causing its bench to erupt.
However, the home crowd never wavered and continued to exude support. Senior center Jahari Smith fed off that energy and put the team on her back, recording five points in three minutes to push the Chippewas' lead back to 10.
“I told her, ‘go out and have a great game,’ and I honestly don’t think she needed to hear anything she knew,” Shelton said. “She stepped up as a leader tonight for us. She came in strong and was locked-in from the get-go.”
While Smith carried a heavy load for the Chippewas down the stretch, their freshmen stepped up and helped keep the offense moving. As a result, Shelton believes the team has turned a corner.
“I think this just boosts their confidence,” Shelton said. “Knowing that they were able to do that without (Davis), without (Martinez), this is just gonna make us go forward from here. I think the way that people were able to step up and give a little bit more I hope that continues. They know tomorrow in practice, the next day, we need to get after it, keep this momentum going and build off this win now.”
Due to having eight players in uniform, CMU struggled with defensive rotations as the game wore on. Still, Shelton believes staying in a groove on offense will be important down the stretch.
“We need to keep this offense rolling,” Shelton said. “There’s always going to be things defensively that we can work on, with our containment and our help side. I thought we did great with help side (defense) this game, but if we can keep this offense rolling, I think we have got a good shot here.”
Without their leading scorer, the Chippewas worked through Smith and junior forward Anika Weekes, resulting in both finishing with a double-double.
“I was just trying to be locked in, come in with some energy, and be there for my team," Smith said. "That was my whole mindset."
Smith's mindset allowed her to pair a career-high 21 points with 14 rebounds. Weekes was close behind with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“We just tried not to focus on the pieces we were missing and just focus on what we did have,” Smith said.
Instead of working exclusively behind the arc, freshman forward Tiana Timpe found her midrange jumper. She ended the game with 12 points while shooting 5-for-8 from the field and grabbing a career-high five rebounds.
Guard Hanna Knoll set new career marks in rebounds with five, steals with two and free-throws made at six.
The Chippewas committed 25 turnovers, 11 more than Miami. Under the circumstances, Smith believes they handled the ball better than in past games. However, it was the mentality in which they took the court that was the most promising to Smith.
“I saw it as soon as we stepped on the floor, the energy was just different, and that’s the energy we need to come out with every single game,” Smith said.
CMU welcomes Akron to McGuirk Arena on Saturday, at 1 p.m.