Eagles upset Rockets 61-55 in MAC TournamentWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
CLEVELAND, Ohio—On Mar. 11 at Quicken Loans Arena, Eastern Michigan’s play was like watching a pack of wolves on the hunt. The No. 5-seeded Eagles smelled blood and attacked from the opening tip, surrounding junior guard Naama Shafir whenever she touched the basketball as they forced No. 1-seeded Toledo into 16 first half turnovers and withstood a second half push from the Rockets to come away with a 61-55 victory in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament and advance to the championship game on Mar. 12.
“Our goal this afternoon was to come in and shut down Naama Shafir and make other players beat us, and I think we did that,” Eastern Michigan head coach AnnMarie Gilbert said. “We held her to no points at half and forced other people to step up. We’re trying to earn respect as one of the better teams in this conference, and we didn’t come here to lose.
“They’ve had our number two times this season, so for us to win, this is a big win for us.”
Shafir was held to just five points in the contest, shooting one-of-11 from the floor as she committed seven turnovers.
“Our goal was when she was up top by herself to trap her,” Eastern Michigan senior guard Cassie Schrock said of defending Shafir. Schrock had a game-high 20 points and finished eight-of-eight from the free throw line. “We wanted to get the ball out of her hands and make someone else beat us.”
No one else on the Toledo roster was able to do that. The Rockets (23-8) shot 37.9 percent from the field in the contest, and their 22 turnovers led to 21 points for Eastern Michigan (22-11). The Eagles also shot 81 percent from the free throw line, converting 17-of-21 attempts from the charity stripe.
“I really thought the difference in the game was turnovers,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop said. “The first half, the 16 turnovers that we had really when you look back at it cost us the game. That, in addition to how many times we put them to the free throw line, compared to whether we were able to get there. I’m very proud of my team.
“I thought they fought extremely hard to come back and showed a lot of courage like they have all season long, and we came up short to a very good team.”
Shafir aggravated her left knee in UT’s final regular season game on Mar. 2 against Central Michigan, but insisted that her knee was not the problem against EMU.
“It wasn’t my knee,” Shafir said. “I think it was just as a team, we didn’t attack the press. We were scared. We did what they wanted us to do.”
“We’ll probably never know,” Cullop said as to whether she felt Shafir’s knee affected her play. “She’s not ever going to tell you, but the one thing I can assure you is that she gave us everything she had, and I’m very proud of her for that.”
Eastern Michigan’s defense stifled Toledo from the onslaught, forcing the Rockets into three turnovers in the opening minutes of the game as it jumped out to an early 8-4 lead. The Eagles built a 13-6 lead by the media timeout at the 11:58 mark, having scored nine of their points off Toledo’s seven turnovers. The Rockets answered with a 6-2 run to make it a 15-12 ballgame after freshman guard Andola Dortch’s layup with 8:06 remaining in the first half.
However, Eastern Michigan countered with a 12-2 run and led 27-14 by the 2:45 mark. Senior forward Melissa Goodall’s layup with 2:29 left in the half ended Toledo’s scoring draught and made it 27-16. Senior guard Jessica Williams nailed a three-pointer from the corner at the 1:16 mark to give the Rockets 19 points as they went into the locker room down 27-19 at the break. Toledo shot just nine-of-26 from the field in the first 20 minutes of play as the Eagles scored 15 points off UT turnovers.
Eastern Michigan started the second half by outscoring the Rockets 10-7 to lead 37-26 with 15:38 to go in the game. A floater off the glass from Dortch made it 39-28 at the 13:17 mark, and junior guard Courtney Ingersoll’s trey from right in front of the Rockets’ bench on the next trip down the floor cut the Eagles’ lead to eight. Shafir’s transition layup with 12:11 remaining made it a 39-33 ballgame.
With the score 50-42, Goodall hoisted up a three-pointer that rattled around and finally went down to make it 50-45 at the 6:24 mark. After Tavelyn James drove the lane and got the lay-in to make it 54-47, Ingersoll answered with a trey in transition to make it a four-point game with 4:24 left. Goodall knocked down another three-pointer with 28.2 ticks left on the clock to make it 58-55, but that was the closest Toledo got as the Eagles stunned the Rockets to advance and play Bowling Green (27-4).
“Obviously, this one hurts,” Goodall said. Goodall finished with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds for Toledo. “It’s not how you want to go out on your last MAC outing, but fortunately for us, we did have a successful enough regular season that we are going to have more games coming up. So that’s what we have to move forward towards.”
The Rockets will likely receive a bid to play in the Postseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament. The full 64-team field for the tournament will be announced late night on Mar. 14 at www.womensnit.com.