Rockets exit MAC tourney in semis, fall 66-61 to Central MichiganWritten by Vincent D. Scebbi | | firstname.lastname@example.org
CLEVELAND — For the third straight season, the University of Toledo women’s basketball team exited the Mid-American Conference tournament in the semifinals, falling March 15 to Central Michigan 66-61.
“It was a hard-fought game with what I feel are two of the best teams in the league; unfortunately we came up on the short end of the stick,” said Rockets head coach Tricia Cullop. “This one hurt because we know how badly we would liked to have make it to the final game and see what could’ve happened there. In my opinion, this was like a championship game because of the caliber of teams that were on the court.”
The Chippewas opened up the game, making their first four three-pointers and held onto the lead from the first 46 seconds on.
Despite being down by 10 at halftime, the Rockets came back in the second stanza and cut the deficit to one with 1:12 left in regulation.
Senior point guard Naama Shafir had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds with a three-pointer, but forward Jessica Schroll blocked the shot and eventually hit the final two free-throws to put it out of reach.
“We obviously needed a three and we had a play and I felt like my man was going, so I was trying to take the three,” Shafir said. “It wasn’t a good read and she blocked the shot. I don’t know.”
Shafir finished with 15 points, shooting 6-of-21 from the field.
The Rockets shot 37 percent from the field throughout the game and made just seven of their 23 attempts in the second half.
Despite the Chippewas shooting 50 percent (6-of-12) from beyond the arc in the first half, they failed to convert on any of their five attempts in the second.
Leading the way for Central Michigan was guard Crystal Bradford, who scored 20 points and had three blocks and three steals.
“Look at her height and her perimeter skills; she’s a great rebounder, she’s a great defender, she’s tough when she rotates over and she is a great shot blocker,” Cullop said. “She’s just a tough matchup in our league. She is capable of playing at a higher level and she’s a concern.”
When Bradford sat down after committing her fourth foul of the game, the Rockets were able to take advantage of her absence and cut the deficit down from nine to two.
Shafir drilled a three-pointer with 12:29 left in the second half, sparking a 9-0 run over the next 3:34.
The loss ends Toledo’s biggest chance to make the NCAA tournament, as the winner of tomorrow’s final game receives an automatic bid to the big dance.
Cullop said she is optimistic the Rockets can still sneak into the tournament with an at-large bid.
“Upsets happen and it’s unfortunate; it’s not what we planned, but it doesn’t mean we failed either,” she said. “We had a tremendous regular season and we lost one game in this postseason tournament and yeah it stings, but there are other teams in leagues across the country that are going to make the NCAA tournament that got upset in their conference tournament.”
This is the third time the Rockets faced Central Michigan, with the Chippewas winning the first game Jan. 10 at Savage Arena and Toledo winning in Mount Pleasant on Feb. 24.
The Rockets have lost in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament for three years. The last two trips to Cleveland resulted in losses to Eastern Michigan University.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a common thing; it’s not a curse,” said forward Lecretia Smith, who finished with eight rebounds. “We come here, we compete, we play great teams; we give up a great fight every year. We just come up short.”