The two best teams in the MAC battled in Buffalo in a rematch of a game where Central Michigan pulled away late at home. Coming into the game, the Bulls were ranked number 20 in RPI, while Central Michigan was at 29. Both teams received votes in the Coach’s Poll. Central Michigan got 17 points, which is nearing the top 25.
The quarter started like most heavyweight fights, with both teams feeling each other out. They each looked a little timid and unsure on offense. Behind tough defense the Bulls built up the lead behind Summer Hemphill and Cassie Oursler, who each had 6 in the quarter.
Central Michigan also played tough defense so the lead was only 5 after a pair of Stephanie Reid free throws with a little over a minute to go. The Chippewas showed why they are such a tough team to beat, because a Reyna Frost bucket couple with tough defense brought the lead down to 3 and then Presley Hudson hit a three. The two teams entered the second half tied at 21.
The two teams battled, continuing the tough defense and diving for every loose ball. Again Buffalo fought tooth and nail to build up a slight lead, in large part by a team effort. Not only was everyone on the floor playing tough defense, but the Bulls had 5 players with 6 or more points on the game with 3 minutes left in the quarter, including 6 off the bench from Autumn Jones. The lead was 40-35 right after the 3:28 TV timeout.
CMU responded with a nice pass and then a layup from Kyra Bussell, the first points off the bench from CMU, who used the starters for most of the first half. A Cassie Breen bucket put the Chippewas within 1 before Hemphill hit her first three of the season. Bussell answered with a jumper of her own. The depth and tenacity of the exchange after the TV timeout was a good indicator of just how tough both to beat both these teams are.
In typical CMU fashion, a Reyna Frost screen that freed Hudson for the three tied it up, followed up by a Hudson dish to Tinara Moore, giving CMU a 2 point lead with less than a minute to go. Then in typical Buffalo fashion, Reid drove and tied it up and tough defense knocked the ball out of bounds. However, a rare Bulls breakdown gave Frost a bunny on the in-bounds play and the Chippewas the lead, 48-46. Let that sink in for a minute. Two teams played great defense and the halftime score was 48-46.
Buffalo shot 50% from the floor, CMU was at 63%. Bulls had one more rebound and the two teams combined for only 9 turnovers.
The two teams started the second half much as they did the first, tentative on offense, maximum effort on defense. I think the effort was catching up with both teams, as they started showing signs of fatigue. The Bulls have the deeper bench and it was a factor, as they used full court press to fluster the Chippewas, who had built up a 6 point lead and they tied it at 60.
A great defensive stand as time expired was all for naught, as a terrible shot bounced into the hands of Frost who knocked it in for a CMU lead, 62-60.
Through three quarters, only 7 Chippewas saw the court, but Hudson and Frost had 15 each, Moore had 12, Micaela Kelly 9, and Cassie Breen added 7. The Bulls had 4 players in double figures, with Reid and Cassie Oursler leading the way with 14 each.
Both teams picked up the offense in the 4th. Oursler hit a couple long range jumpers as the Bulls took the lead 68-65.
Even though the Bulls flustered Hudson in the second half, the Chippewas were able to score and keep the game within reach before a Frost three tied it at 70. Moore then used a nifty move inside to give CMU the lead with less than 5 minute to go.
Oursler tied it up and then Cierra Dillard hit her first three of the game to give the Bulls the lead. Oursler then finished on a break and just like that the score was 77-72 and the crowd was rocking. They quickly quieted down after Reid picked up her 4th foul.
After some frantic play, the Bulls led by four with 1:50 to go. In this back and forth game where no team established control, the Chippewas found themselves backed into a corner because of some sloppy play late. There were a few turnovers and bad shots, but nothing too terrible. However in a game with these kind of teams, a little sloppy play can be the difference between a top 25 ranking and a loss.
Opting not to foul, the Chippewas played tough defense and forced a runner in the lane from Reid that rimmed out. Kelly drove the basket and scored with a chance for a traditional three point play. After a missed free throw, Buffalo rushed down and Dillard dished to Hemphill to make it a two point game. Dillard was struggling a bit in the game, but her huge three and then that assist were huge plays from a great player.
After a CMU bucket Reid drove with a reverse layup put Buffalo in command. The Bulls then went up 84-79 at the line with 7.1 seconds. Of course CMU didn’t go quietly into the night as Breen hit a three pointer. Reid hit one of two to make it a three point game with 3.4 seconds left. A contested three by Frost couldn’t find the mark. The Chippewas lost their first game of the MAC season, 85-82.
The Chippewas hit 50% of their shots, while the Bulls hit 46.4%. The Bulls held a slight rebounding edge, but the telling stat was turnovers. The Bulls only had 5, and while the Chippewas played a mostly clean game, they finished sloppy down the stretch and ended with 10.
Cassie Oursler, who had a bad game in the first match-up finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds. Reid added 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Reyna Frost led the Chippewas with 23 points and 16 rebounds.