The Akron Zips made history on Saturday afternoon with a 79-68 victory over the Ball State Cardinals in the 2014 Mid-American Conference Women's Basketball Tournament championship game. With the win, the Zips clinched their first-ever MAC tournament championship and the school's inaugural bid to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
Rachel Tecca had accumulated a rather pedestrian 21 points in two MAC Tournament games before the championship. The MAC's leading scorer in 2014 had ceded the primary points-making duties to co-star Hanna Luburgh and, to an extent, assist-maker Kacie Cassell. Both had done a fantastic job getting Akron through tough games against Toledo and Central Michigan, but when everything was on the line, Jodi Kest's team turned back to their senior leader.
2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament
Tecca did not disappoint. She dominated the first half by scoring 10 times in 12 attempts from the field and went to halftime with 20 points and five rebounds. She earned nearly half of Akron's 41 points. Late in the half, Ball State had closed to within three points (33-30). After the final media timeout of the period, Tecca went on a personal 8-0 run to end the half. It bumped Akron's lead up to 11 points (41-30). The Zips wouldn't lead by fewer than 10 points for the remainder of the game.
From the outset, Akron imposed their fast-paced style of play on the Cardinals. This was not good news for a BSU team that was playing for the fourth consecutive day (and for the sixth time in eight days). The Cardinals were able to stay with Akron for the majority of the first half, but as those first 20 minutes wore on, some fatigue combined with an early bit of foul trouble contributed to Akron gaining control of the game.
As we noted in our preview this morning, part of Ball State's problem in their first two games with Akron during the regular season was that they did not have one player they could turn to that could take over a game, in the same mold that Tecca did. While Tecca's 10 field goals in the first half picked up slack for a Zips' attack that was otherwise 7-of-23 from the floor, the Cardinals could not answer. Nathalie Fontaine made a few shots early, but the Shelbie Justice and Brandy Woody that we saw in earlier rounds did not appear today. BSU went 3-of-16 from long range today, and that robbed the Cardinals of a significant portion of their offense.
The early minutes of the second half were a display of Akron's diversity on offense. Their 3-pointers started to drop, as Hannah Plybon and DiAndra Gibson sank two and Carly Young added another. Tecca also scored a couple of times, and the Zips had a 23-9 run in the first 9:30 of the period. That gave them a 25-point lead (64-39), and more-or-less, the game was over at that point.
With just under six minutes left in the game, Ball State's Brittany Carter went on her own personal run and drilled a trio of 3-pointers within a two-minute span. That brought the Cardinal deficit to 73-63 and forced Akron to call a timeout. However, the Zips' leadership prevailed and four free throws coupled with strong defense down the stretch sealed the game. Carter sank one final three on Ball State's final possession to provide the final 11-point margin.
Tecca finished the game with 30 points, and Young added 15. Carter's threes pushed her point total to 23 for Ball State, and Woody and Fontaine added 15 and 14 respectively.
The Cardinals drop to 18-16 but are eligible tor a post-season bid given their winning record. Akron is now 23-9 and has an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. They will learn their seed, opponent and location during the NCAA Women's Tournament selection show on Monday night. That will be televised on ESPN at 7:00 p.m. EST on Monday, March 17th.