Thrilling finale serves as representation of Chippewas' gritty mentality

The CMU Men’s basketball team huddles up before leaving the court after warmups on Thursday, March 10 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

Central Michigan continued to prove that it is built with fighters, falling in the final seconds to the Toledo Rockets 72-71 in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The Chippewas, who were the No. 8 seed gave the top-seeded Rockets a tough, competitive first round. This hasn't been the first time the Chippewas have challenged a top team in the MAC. 

The Chippewas have come into close games, coming down to the final seconds with top teams in the MAC like Kent State, Ohio, Akron and even Toledo before the tournament matchup.

The Chippewas start of the season didn't come very easy. Their preseason schedule had them facing multiple top-25 ranked teams ultimately preparing them for what was to come in conference play. The young team was challenged against the best of the best, but it ultimately gave them a preview and prepared them to play the top teams in their conference. 

Not only has this team fought a tough schedule, they also had a sporadic schedule. In the middle of the season the Chippewas went on a two-week hiatus due to COVID-19. Returning from their break, they had multiple three game weeks and were still battling health issues. Despite all odds against them the Chippewas rose to the occasion and rallied a three-game winning streak.  

The Chippewas and the Rockets were off to a back-and-forth manner the whole first half. The Chippewas lost momentum coming back from the half, losing their two-point lead and allowing Toledo to find their rhythm. The Rockets had a 7-point lead with 5:27 left to play. The Chippewas stepped up and fought their way back in true Chippewa fashion. 

CMU secured a 3-point play and with 30 seconds left, drawing back within one. The Chippewas found themselves back on their end of the court, securing a dunk to take the lead 71-70. Toledo snuck a basket to take back the lead and took it to a one-point game once again.   

A Chippewa turnover left the Rockets with the ball, 9.2 seconds left and everyone on a wild ride of emotions. The Rockets had one last opportunity to secure their lead but failed to capitalize. The Chippewas took one more shot from beyond the arc as time expired ultimately falling to the Rockets 72-71. 

Although the Chippewas weren't at the top of the MAC this season, they proved that they could run with the big dogs. 

The Chippewas were led by the first-year head coach Tony Barbee. Barbee was the only first year head coach that brought his team to the MAC tournament this year. He is also the second coach in CMU program history to take their team to the MAC tournament in their first year.