2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament: First Round Recap

Monday night's first round began with an overtime thriller. After that? Well, let's try to forget what happened. It wasn't pretty.

(Click links for box-scores.)

#9 Northern Illinois 81, #8 EASTERN MICHIGAN 76 (OT)

The Northern Illinois Huskies used a MAC Tournament-record nine 3-pointers from Alexis Lindstrom to propel themselves to an 81-76 victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles on Monday night.  The opening-round game in the MAC Women's Basketball Tournament was held in Ypsilanti, Mich. at EMU's Convocation Center.

This exciting contest had a litany of outstanding performances from both teams.

Lindstrom finished 9-of-11 from behind the arc and scored 31 points.  Teammate Natecia Augusta established new career highs by going 10-of-16 from the floor and scoring 24 points.  She also contributed eight rebounds and three assists.  Amanda Corral played much of the game in foul trouble for NIU, but she still scored 15, grabbed six rebounds and passed out four assists in 28 minutes.

The Eagles were no different.  Freshman Cha Sweeney raised eyebrows in her first MAC Tournament game by scoring 26 points and drilling four 3-pointers.  Shannise Heady scored 17 points in 20 minutes off the bench, as she made six of 10 shots and five of six free throws.  Natachia Watkins produced the game's only double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The game was very close throughout.  It featured only four lead changes, but neither team led by more than eight at any point.  The score was also tied at 11 different junctures.

Both teams shot exceptionally well during a fast-paced first half.  The score was already tied at 10 after 4:35 had elapsed, and EMU led 22-21 at the midpoint of the period.  With 6:00 left in the half, the score was again tied at 30-30.  Scoring slowed down in the final minutes of the half, but the teams went to the locker room with EMU ahead 38-36.  NIU made 60 percent of their shots during the first 20 minutes, while EMU was just behind at 58 percent.

Defense played a more prominent role in the second half as shooting percentages dropped precipitously, and both teams were able to reel off runs at various times.  EMU began the half by scoring the first six points to take their biggest lead of the game (44-36).  They still led by eight (48-40) after six minutes had gone by, but two triples from Lindstrom sparked an 11-3 run by NIU.  That tied the game at 51 with 12 minutes left.

The game stayed that way for the next two minutes, until Desyree Thomas scored to allow EMU to briefly reclaim the lead.  NIU followed with another run, this time 11-2.  When Lindstrom dropped in another trey with 6:38 left, the Huskies had their biggest lead (62-55).

EMU fought right back with a 9-2 burst that tied the game at 64.  The teams would trade blows twice to get the score to 68-68, then neither team scored for the final 98 seconds of regulation.  EMU missed a shot and NIU missed two that would have given each team the lead.

In the overtime period, Lindstrom sank two more 3-pointers within the first minute, and NIU established control with a 74-70 lead.  During the final 90 seconds, they made only five of their 10 free throws, but that was enough to hold off the Eagles in a five-point victory.

NIU finished the game with a shooting percentage of 53.6, and they made 11 3-pointers.  EMU's shooting dropped to 45.9 percent, and they ended the game with only four buckets from long range.  Lindstrom's heroics from behind the arc helped Northern Illinois overcome 20 turnovers that the Eagles turned into 22 points.

The Huskies (11-18), who are seeded 9th in the tournament, will now face the 5th-seeded Ball State Cardinals in the second round.  That game will be held at noon EST on Wednesday, March 12th at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  The winner of that game will face #4 Akron on Thursday at noon.

The Eagles drop to 17-13 with the loss and will now wait to see if they will receive an invitation to a post-season tournament.

#5 BALL STATE 73, #12 Kent State 38

The Ball State Cardinals routed the Kent State Golden Flashes 73-38 on Monday night in the opening round of the 2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament.  The game was held in Muncie, Ind. at Worthen Arena.

Kent State was never really in this game, and it looked far too similar to their 31-point effort in Muncie two months ago.  The Flashes actually scored the game's first two points but then gave up four 3-pointers to fall behind 12-2.  Nathalie Fontaine made two of those for Ball State, and Shelbie Justice and Jill Morrison added the others.

KSU scored three straight to cut the deficit to seven and still trailed only 16-7 midway through the period, but Ball State ended the competitive phase of the game with a 15-4 run that pushed their lead to 31-11 at the final media timeout of the half (3:49).  They maintained that 20-point lead (35-15) at halftime.

The Cardinals shot 52 percent (12-of-23) in the first half and made six 3-pointers.  Kent State, on the other hand, made only half as many shots in the same number of attempts, and they connected only once from behind the arc.  The Flashes committed only seven turnovers, but those were converted into 12 points.

The blowout quickly escalated in the second half, as BSU outscored Kent State 15-4 during the first seven minutes.  When Morrison sank another three with 13:09 left, it gave the Cardinals a 50-19 lead.  KSU actually followed with nine straight points and held Ball State without a field goal for over six minutes, but Justice ended that burst with back-to-back 3-pointers.  That spurred a 19-1 run for Ball State, after which the Cardinals owned a 69-29 lead.  They eventually won by 35.

Ball State finished the game by shooting 51 percent and making 12 3-pointers, while Kent State shot 29 percent and made only two from long range.  The Flashes were out-rebounded 34-30 and turned the ball over 18 times.

Fontaine led all players with 21 points for the Cardinals, and she secured eight rebounds.  Morrison (18) and Justice (12) also scored in double figures for Ball State.  Kent State's leading scorer was Ashley Evans with 10 points, and CiCi Shannon pulled down a game-best 11 rebounds.

The #5 seed Cardinals (15-15) advance to the second round of the tournament in Cleveland.  They will play the 9th-seeded Northern Illinois Huskies at noon on Wednesday, March 12th.  The Golden Flashes end their season at 7-23.

#7 WESTERN MICHIGAN 82, #10 Miami 72

The Western Michigan Broncos used a balanced scoring attack and fantastic free throw shooting to beat the Miami RedHawks 82-72 on Monday night in the opening round of the 2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament.  The victory in Kalamazoo, Mich. was WMU's third in three tries over the RedHawks during the 2013-2014 season.

Four players scored in double figures for the Broncos, including Marquisha Harris, who led the team with 23 points.  Nine of those came from the free throw line.  A.J. Johnson added 16, while Jazmine Windham and Alex Morton scored 14 and 12, respectively.  WMU shot very well, especially in the second half, but their effort was helped immensely by a 27-of-33 performance at the charity stripe.

The Broncos led throughout the game.  Miami was able to tie the score at 2-2 and 4-4 in the opening minutes, but otherwise, WMU held the advantage.  The RedHawks were able to stay close for a while and trailed by only one (14-13) just eight minutes into the game.  However, Western Michigan used a 3-pointer from Alex Morton and an "and-1" tip-in from Harris to go on an 8-0 run.  WMU led 22-13, and Miami's deficit would not be fewer than seven points for the rest of the game.

WMU slowly built their lead over the remainder of the half until it reached 17 (42-25) with 1:24 left before the half.  They ultimately went to the locker room with a 15-point edge.  The lead hovered around 15 points until just after the midway point of the second half.  A layup by Jazmine Windham gave the Broncos their biggest lead of the game, 20 points, with 9:00 left on the clock.

Miami used a 17-4 run over a four-minute span to get within seven points, but Western Michigan converted 10 of their 12 free throw attempts in the final 3:12 of the game to prevent any further comeback.

The RedHawks shot a respectable 42 percent from the floor but made only seven (of 15) free throws.  They were led by Nicole Anderson's 18 points.  Hannah Robertson contributed an additional 15.

The #7 seed Broncos (13-17) will now face the #6 Toledo Rockets on Wednesday afternoon in the second round of the tournament.  The game is scheduled approximately for 2:30 p.m. EST but will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game, which begins at noon.  The teams will play at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  Miami completes their season with an 8-22 record.

#6 TOLEDO 61, #11 Ohio 44

The Toledo Rockets received scoring from nine different players en route to a dominant 61-44 win over the Ohio Bobcats in the first round of the 2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament.  The game was held at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio on Monday evening.

Toledo scored the first seven points of the game, but points were at a premium early.  With just five minutes left in the half, UT led only 20-11.  Then, Elena de Alfredo stepped up and drained a 3-pointer that sparked a 13-3 run over the final five minutes to give the Rockets a 33-14 halftime lead.

The story of the first half, more than anything else, was Ohio's inability to make shots, particularly from long distance.  They made only 19 percent of their shots in the opening 20 minutes (6-of-32), and they missed on 18 of their 19 shots from beyond the arc.

Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they continued to throw up 3-pointers in the second half.  During the final 20 minutes, they attempted 20 more.  They did make six of those, but still shot only 35 percent from the floor.  It was not nearly enough to overcome Toledo's 50 percent shooting performance, and the Rockets were able to make six 3-pointers in only 15 attempts.

Toledo never led by fewer than 16 points in the second half, and at one point, their lead ballooned to 27 points.  Ultimately, the Rockets settled for a 16-point victory.

Toledo's Andola Dortch and Ohio's Lexie Baldwin led all players with 13 points apiece.  Baldwin also pulled down 10 rebounds.  Janelle Reed-Lewis added 10 points for the Rockets.

The Rockets (15-15), who are seeded sixth in the tournament, advance to face Western Michigan in the second round on Wednesday afternoon in Cleveland.  Ohio concludes its season with an overall record of 9-21.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

And, here's the official 2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament bracket:

ROUND SEED TEAM VS. SEED TEAM
1st 5 Ball State 73
vs. 12 Kent State 38
1st 8 Eastern Michigan 76
vs. 9 Northern Illinois 81
1st 7 Western Michigan 82
vs. 10 Miami 72
1st 6 Toledo 61
vs. 11 Ohio 44
ROUND SEED TEAM VS. SEED TEAM
2nd 5 Ball State
vs. 9 Northern Illinois
2nd 6 Toledo
vs. 7 Western Michigan
ROUND SEED TEAM VS. SEED TEAM
3rd 4 Buffalo
vs. 5 or 9 BSU or NIU
3rd 3 Akron vs. 6 or 7 Toledo or WMU
ROUND SEED TEAM VS. SEED TEAM
SF 1 Bowling Green
vs. 4, 5 or 9
SF 2 Central Michigan
vs. 3, 6 or 7
ROUND SEED TEAM VS. SEED TEAM
Champ. SF #1 winner vs. SF #2 winner
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