The MAC Women’s Championship was settled today, in the final battle between Central Michigan and Buffalo. Both these teams have had incredible seasons, at-large worthy, but somebody was going to get the automatic bid. The season series was a 1-1 split, so this game was the final chapter.
Both teams got off to hot starts, however CMU was hotter. The Bulls had a 5-4 lead after a Steph Reid three point shot, before the Chippewas went on a 8-0 run that featured two Presley Hudson three point shots, and many offensive rebounds. The Bulls would look to make adjustments at the under 5 timeout, desperate to try and swing the momentum early in the game.
The Bulls seemed like they were clawing their way back in to the game with an Autumn Jones three pointer, however CMU always seemed to have the answer. Presley Hudson shot the ball incredibly during the first quarter finishing with 11 points. If the Bulls wanted to come back they would have to start putting better pressure on her. At the end of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed 26-14.
The second quarter started much the same for the Bulls, not able to stop CMU. However, as the quarter progressed, the Bulls started to make a few stops. While they didn’t turn it in to offensive points, they began to believe in themselves. Cierra Dillard went and hit a big three point shot that got the crowd on their feet, followed by a defensive stop and a Mariah Suchan two pointer. At the under five timeout before the half, the Bulls cut the lead down to 34-28 and had momentum on their side.
The Bulls defense continued to step up in the final fourth of the half however, as CMU was struggling to get the ball inside, as Summer Hemphill and Cierra Dillard started to intercept passes that came inside. Defense turned in to offense and a couple Dillard three pointers later and the Bulls has a 40-39 lead. The Bulls crowd was as energized as ever and the Chips were in danger of letting the game slip away. However a quick 4-0 run to end the half gave CMU a 43-40 lead heading in to the break. Due to the Bulls run however, this game was still up for grabs going in to the second half.
As the second half got underway, it seemed like this were rolling for the Bulls as Summer Hemphill scored in transition to cut the lead to one. Then after a missed CMU 3, the Bulls seemed to forget to rebound which led to a Chippewas 3. CMU fed off this energy and caused the Bulls to use a timeout as they fell behind 51-44 early in to the second half.
After the Coach Jack timeout, the Bulls seemed to struggle to get their game going. The Chippewas and Bulls exchanged runs which left the CMU lead still at 7 at the under five timeout. During this time, the game got sloppy and the Bulls didn’t seem to be getting back on defense. Summer Hemphill began to show her frustrations which was a bad sign for the Bulls who have been focused on team unity and playing for one another all season.
As the third quarter winded down, the Chippewas had all momentum. They were making it easy on offense and getting stops. The teams eventually began to trade baskets, which was not ideal for the Bulls. Tinara Moore began to make her impact felt in the game, something in which had been lacking up until her first basket. At the end of the third however, Autumn Jones threw up a prayer that went in off the glass and cut the lead to 69-61. Steph Reid went to the bench late in third with an apparent hand injury, so the Bulls would have to test their depth during the fourth quarter.
By the under 5 timeout in the fourth quarter, the game began to fall apart. The Bulls were struggling to rebound and Coach Jack was tagged with a technical foul. CMU led 80-67 with 4:56 to go in the game and the Bulls just did not seem to have the answer on either end of the floor. Steph Reid was doing whatever she could to narrow the gap as she returned with a taped up wrist, but things were looking bleak for the automatic bid. The focus seemed to change to “play respectable” so that the NCAA committee had no reason to leave the Bulls on the outside looking in.
The Bulls stayed fighting however, and after a lack luster performance on defense, still found themselves with an outside chance looking in to steal this game. Despite Moore dominating for CMU, the Bulls found a way to create pressure and a Hemphill lay up got the score down to 86-80 with 1:36 left in the game. The Bulls would need stops on every CMU possession to have a chance in this game.
However, that was not the case, Presley Hudson drew a foul and pushed the score to 88-80 with a minute to go. Buffalo missed a three on the following possession and the Bulls went in to foul mode as CMU was able to extend their lead to 10 with under a minute to go. Courtney Wilkins hit a deep three late, but it was not enough as the Bulls ended up falling short despite their late push. CMU won the MAC Championship 96-91 and the Buffalo Bulls will have to sit and wonder if the committee feels they did enough to get in to the tournament.
The Bulls were led by Cierra Dillard’s 26 points. CMU was led in scoring by Micaela Kelly who had 26 points for the Chippewas, and added 6 rebounds. Both of these teams played a hard game and it’s a shame one has to lose. The MAC is a two bid league and hopefully the committee sees it that way. Congrats to Central Michigan on a hard fought tournament and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.