The Toledo Rockets are going dancing after pulling away from a pesky NIU Huskies squad on Saturday afternoon by a final score of 82-71.
Toledo had not played in the MAC Championship since its loss in 2010 and had not won the MAC Women’s Basketball Tournament since 2001.
NIU, the highest remaining seed, was looking to punch their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament as a member of the Mid-American Conference. NIU had not participated in the MAC Championship game before today since rejoining the MAC in 1997.
The sixth-seeded Rockets won the game despite having played four games in six days, a fact that NIU tried to take advantage of in the first half.
NIU, paced by Ally Lehman’s 22 points, tried to run the Rockets out of the gym, shooting up 40 attempts in the first half and making 11 of those shots. NIU managed to keep up with Toledo’s production despite a horrid 27.4 shooting percentage, trailing by only one after the first quarter.
The second quarter was also hotly contested, with NIU edging out Toledo 18-17 during those ten minutes, thanks in part to a 7-0 NIU run that tied the game at the end of the half.
The third quarter looked to be going the Huskies’ way too, as Renee Sladek opened up the scoring and the Huskies held the lead for much of the quarter. At one point, the Huskies were in the bonus with Toledo down 43-38, but Cunningham aided a 10-4 run for that eventually tied the game at 47.
That was key to the game’s development, as Toledo would go on to boat-race the worn-down Huskies in the fourth quarter. The Rockets went on a 14-2 run from the 8:54 mark to the 4:42 mark and outscored the foul-ridden Huskies 34-22 to put the game well away.
It was ultimately NIU’s famous offensive pace that hurt them the most; NIU went 29-76 overall (compared to Toledo’s 29-64), including a paltry 4-24 from three-point range and held the ball for an average of 11 seconds per possession. NIU was also worked on the inside, giving up 40 defensive rebounds, 10 offensive rebounds and 40 points in the paint.
Mikaela Boyd logged a double-double, leading all players in both points and rebounds (27 points, 14 rebounds), while Olivia Cunningham (20 points), Mariella Santucci (13 points, four assists), and Kaayla McIntyre (eight points, 11 rebounds, tournament record-tying six blocks) also contributed for the Rockets down the stretch.
For the Huskies, Lehman (22 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), Sladek (15 points), Janae Poisson (13 points) and Cassidy Glenn (6 points, 9 rebounds, one block) were leading contributors in an ultimately vexing game for NIU.