The final in Mount Pleasant today was Toledo Rockets 76, Central Michigan Chippewas 63 but there was nothing about the score indicative of the actual game itself. The Rockets backed themselves into a corner early with pathetic shooting, finding themselves down 12 points in the second half, only to rise to form late for the comeback win over the Chippewas. Naama Shafir had a season high 29 points to go with three rebounds and five assists while Yolanda Richardson dropped in 18 points and nine rebounds in a dominating performance inside the paint.
In order to keep high scoring, and presumptive MAC Player of the Year, Crystal Bradford in check the Rockets had to make sacrifices on defense and Niki DiGuilio was the initial benefactor. DiGuilio was allowed to setup shop in the left corner and nailed four wide open threes early on in the first half to lead all scorers with 14 points at the break. Along with DiGuilio's long range excellence, Central's Jessica Schroll put in 13 points of her own in the opening frame. To Toledo's credit, Bradford had an absolutely miserable first half stat line: 0-8 shooting, one rebound, one assists, two fouls and four turnovers in 16 minutes.
Richardson was a perfect 6-6 shooting and yet Toledo still only shot 38.5% from the floor in the first half. The Rockets continue to insist they are a three-point shooting team and at the same time continue to prove statistically that they are not by going 2-10 in the game's first 20 minutes of play. Shafir and Richardson kept their team in this one early and it still took a late run with time winding down for Toledo to draw within range of Central Michigan. The score was 38-34 Chippewas at the break.
After halftime, Bradford looked like she was ready for redemption after a poor first half and scored a quick six points. Toledo continued to struggle getting over the hump and with 11:25 to play they faced a 57-46 deficit that seemed insurmountable based on how things had gone for each team up to that point.
And then suddenly the wheels came off for Central Michigan as their offense stalled out and Toledo's caught fire. Shafir and Inma Zanoguera (12 points, 11 rebounds in 37 minutes) began an offensive burst that started the Rockets on a stretch where they would score 24 points over the next 10 minutes. Central Michigan only managed to score two more points against Toledo's defense during the run and the game was flipped on its head. The Rockets took a 61-59 lead, their first since the score was 9-7, with five minutes to go on a Zanoguera layup.
The game was far from over at this point but Central Michigan seemed to be out of sorts and didn't put up much of a fight the rest of the way. Bradford finished with six points, never scoring after the 17 minute mark of the second half, and was unceremoniously benched for the closing minutes even though the game wasn't entirely out of reach. Several Central Michigan players seemed to lose their cool as their lead was slipping and three Chippewas (Bradford, Brandie Baker and Taylor Johnson) ended up in foul trouble as the closing moments neared. Andola Dortch (11 points, six rebounds in 37 minutes) and Shafir took charge once the Rockets had the lead to secure the come from behind win.
Toledo takes sole possession of the lead in the MAC regular season standings with the win.