In a game which almost certainly fit the billing of a heavyweight title-fight, the #2 Central MIchigan Chippewas defeated the #1 Bowling Green Falcons by a final score of 77-72 in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship Game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday morning.
Today’s victory was Central Michigan’s fifth MAC Tournament title, and their first since 2018, when they made a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament run. It’s also the program’s first under head coach Heather Oesterle, who took over for her long-time mentor Sue Guevara in the 2019 season.
Bowling Green got off to a hot start in the game, racing out to as much as a 12-point lead with 6:18 to play in the second quarter. The Falcons were attacking the Chips man-to-man defense with sharp passing and ball movement, getting easy buckets. This worked for a while, at least until CMU re-discovered their three-point shooting stroke after a woeful start from behind the arch. The Chips outscored the Falcons 19-7 the rest of the quarter to tie the game at 34-34 heading to the locker room.
After being held to just four first-half points, Central Michigan’s Micaela Kelly came out on fire in the third quarter. She scored 15 points in a 19-7 Chips run that opened a 53-41 lead with 5:16 to play in the quarter. To make things worse for the Falcons, all-MAC selection Kadie Hempfling picked up her fourth foul with 4:49 left in the third quarter.
Then it was Bowling Green’s turn. The Falcons went on a 15-2 run of their own to take back the lead at 56-55 with under two minutes to play in the third. The wild quarter ended with Central Michigan holding a slim 61-60 lead.
In the final stanza, the Falcons had a lead of 67-65 with six minutes left. Then the lights went out for Bowling Green. They did not score for the next five plus minutes.and the Chippewas built a lead the Falcons weren’t able to come back from,
Tournament MVP Kelly led the Chips with 29 points, with 25 of those points coming in the second half. Her backcourt mate, Molly Davis, added 23 points, including a three-pointer which more or less sealed the game late. The Falcons were led by Elissa Brett’s 18 points, while teammate Lexi Fleming added 13 points and nine boards in an admirable effort.
The Chippewas improved to 18-8 on the year, and will receive the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Tournament. The Falcons are now 20-6, and will await their postseason futures, as their resume is impressive enough to receive an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. If they do not qualify as an NCAAT at-large, they will receiver the automatic qualifer bid for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, due to their regular-season championship.