The Central Michigan women’s team relied on veteran leadership and a freshman spark to defeat the Buffalo Bulls, 96-91 in the 2018 Mid-American Conference Championship game on Saturday afternoon in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
The Chippewas took an eight-point lead, 69-61 into the fourth quarter and held off a late charge from the Bulls to claim the title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Tournament. They finish the year 28-4, while the Bulls end at 27-5 and will have to wait until Monday evening to see if they will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The conference hasn’t had two teams in the field since 1996.
The veteran quartet of junior Presley Hudson (26 points), senior Tinara Moore (17 points, 14 rebounds), senior Cassie Breen (10 points), and junior Reyna Frost (10 points, 11 rebounds) led the Chippewas. But it was freshman guard Micaela Kelly who set the tone early for Central Michigan. She hit on five of six three-pointers and finished with 26 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Central Michigan dominated much of the first half. They jumped out to a 17-7 lead in the game’s first three minutes and held a double-digit lead for most of the half. At about the five-minute mark of the second quarter, Buffalo began to battle back. They went on a 11-0 run to get back to even and eventually took the lead several times in the last minute of the half. A big bucket by Presley Hudson with the clock winding down helped the Chippewas regained the lead, 43-40 at the break.
The Chippewas came out on fire again to start the second half. They pushed their lead to as many as eleven points in the quarter. Cierra Dillard’s hot shooting from the three-point line was the only thing keeping the Bulls in the game at that point. As it stood, it took a desperation three-pointer by the Bulls’ Autumn Jones to cut the Chippewas lead to 69-61 after three quarters.
Dillard almost single-handily kept the Bulls in this game from beginning to end. When it looked like Central Michigan might put the game away several times, she hit a big three or made a play to keep the Bulls within striking distance. She finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Senior point guard Stephanie Reid had 15 points before leaving the game with an ankle injury with less than four minutes to go in the game. Her pressure defense and energy from the point was missed down the stretch for the Bulls.
Central Michigan shot a blistering 12-22 from the three-point line (54.5%) and 30-56 (53.6%) from the field overall. The Chippewas also won the battle of the boards, 44-34.
The 2018 MAC All-Tournament Team
- Reyna Frost, junior, Central Michigan (Tournament MVP)
- Tinara Moore, senior, Central Michigan
- Micaela Keely, redshirt-freshman, Central Michigan
- Stephanie Reid, senior, Buffalo
- Cierra Dillard, junior, Buffalo