The celebrating started early for the Toledo Rockets, as Mariella Santucci, the senior guard from Italy, was fouled in transition with 2.6 seconds to go in the game. CMU had just missed two three-point attempts to try and bridge the gap, and with a three-possession lead, victory was all but ensured.
Santucci, who has dealt with an off-court distraction in her parents being unable to see her play her final games as a Rocket due to coronavirus fears, screamed with joy as her teammates surrounded her going up to the line. She split the pair, but with the game in hand, it was a way to put her mark on a 78-71 victory for Toledo over the #1 overall seed Central Michigan.
Santucci sat for over a quarter and a half due to two early fouls in the first quarter, but still finished with eight points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals in a Herculean effort to take the Rockets (who were 12-17 going into the postseason) to the semifinals.
It was a team effort for Toledo— who won their second game in a 36-hour period on Wednesday afternoon— as five players (including one bench player) hit double-digits in scoring on the day.
Tanaya Beacham (14 points, seven rebounds) led the way for Toledo, while Sara Rokkanen (12 points, five rebounds), Nakiah Black (13 points, three rebounds, one assist), Quinesha Lockett (11 points) and Tatyana Davis (11 points, three rebounds, three assists) were majjor contributors.
The game really changed coming out of the halftime break, as Toledo used a 20-5 run in the third quarter to flip the game from a five-point deficit to a 10-point lead. They bunkered down on defense, forcing CMU to go 1-of-12 on shots during the run, shutting the Chippewas out after the 8:32 mark.
The two teams would exchange runs in the fourth quarter, with CMU trimming the deficit to as low as three points, but they could never quite bridge the gap in the end, thanks in part to two clutch three-pointers from Sara Rokaanen.
CMU struggled to get going on offense throughout the day, as evidenced by the numbers for Micaela Kelly and Molly Davis. Davis had one point at the half, while Kelly had only made one field goal attempt on the day prior to the fourth quarter.
It was Kyra Bussell who helped the Chippewas hold water to start, scoring 17 first-half points and a game-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Micaela Kelly would rebound in the fourth quarter, finising with 21 points on 6-of-20 shooting, including 4-of-9 from three-point range, seven rebounds and six assists. No other Chippewa scored more than nine points (Davis) in the game.
Toledo will now await the winner of the Ohio/Western Michigan game, for a Friday afternoon appointment.
CMU, which has the MAC player, coach and sixth player of the year, will await their postseason fates at home in Mt. Pleasant.