For the first time since 2013, the Central Michigan Chippewas women’s basketball team will be going to the NCAA Tournament.
Both the Chippewas and the Bulls expected themselves to be in this game after going 17-1 and 16-2 in conference play respectively.
Presley Hudson lit the Chippewas offensive spark early and often, pouring in 11 points going 3-3 from downtown. The Chippewas turned things up defensively as well, as they were able to frustrate Buffalo point guard Stephanie Reid who was 0-2 after the first quarter.
The game would turn on its head in the second quarter, however, as all good MAC Tournament Championship Games seem to. Down 34-23, Buffalo forward Mariah Suchan nearly dove out of bounds to save a loose ball to Reid, who found sharpshooter Cierra Dillard open for 3. This sparked a 17-5 run that put Buffalo up 40-39 via another Dillard 3 ball. Central would calm the storm a bit as Presley Hudson and gang would retake a 43-40 lead heading into halftime.
The second half absolutely belonged to Chippewa senior Tinara Moore. After a scoreless first half (with only 2 touches according to coach Sue Guevara in the post-game presser), Moore established a dominant presence down low. Hudson and Moore dissected the Bulls defense with the high pick and roll as Moore cruised to a 17-point second half performance and finished with 14 rebounds.
Central would extend the lead to as much as 14 before Buffalo made another run to cut it to 4. The Chippewas were able to make enough of their free throws in the closing seconds, however, as Central Michigan punched their ticket with a 96-91 victory.
As mentioned, Tinara Moore’s rebounding down low was too much for Buffalo as double teams failed to slow her down even the slightest. Guards Micaela Kelly and Presley Hudson poured in 26 points each as they frustrated Buffalo’s perimeter defense all day. All starters for Central Michigan finished in double digit scoring.
All-MAC Tournament honors from Central Michigan went to Tinara Moore, Micaela Kelly, and MAC Tournament MVP Reyna Frost who had 10 points and 11 boards in the championship win. Frost scored 14 in the quarterfinal win over Eastern Michigan and 18 in the semifinal win over Miami Ohio. “Thank my teammates and thank my coaches for giving me this award”, tournament MVP Frost said, “preparing me for these games”.
For Buffalo, Cierra Dillard was not her usual self from the field as she really struggled to be efficient. Dillard would finish with 26 points on 6-20 from the field and 5-15 from 3. Stephanie Reid, one of the leaders of this Buffalo team, suffered 2 injuries in the game, the latter of which ending her day.
In inadvertent elbow to her right wrist late in the 3rd forced the trainer to wrap it.
Reid would sit the beginning of the 4th and a sprained ankle at the 5-minute mark would end her day. She would finish with 15 points. A technical foul on Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack with 8 minutes left for disagreeing with a call would prove crucial down the stretch.
Despite 17 turnovers for Central compared to just 5 for Buffalo, the Chippewas overcame this with their persistence on the glass (primarily because of Moore). Central outrebounded Buffalo 44-34 and those extra possessions down the stretch really took the life out of the Buffalo defense.
Buffalo, after a 27-5 regular season record, is still hoping to be a team to receive an at-large bid. “I don’t see how they can’t be”, said Central Michigan head coach Sue Guevara. “They’re one of the top 64 teams in this country”. Coach Guevara also pointed out the MAC Conference was 7th overall in RPI which should work in Buffalo’s favor.
Buffalo forward Summer Hemphill also believes that this Bulls team still has work to do. “The season’s definitely not over”, the freshman said. “We have a longer run to look forward to”.