CLEVELAND — When Miami took the court against top-ranked Central Michigan University on Friday morning, they did so with nothing to lose. Under the bright lights of the Quicken Loans Arena, the ‘Hawks suited up for the program’s first semi-final game of the Mid-American Conference Tournament in 10 years.
Despite mounting a furious comeback against the Chippewas, the RedHawks fell short in the game’s final minutes and lost 61-58.
“Really proud of our team,” head coach Megan Duffy said. “I think we gave Central everything we had.”
Boasting a 26-4 record with only one conference loss, senior forward and MAC Player of the Year Tinara Moore and a blowout victory against the ‘Hawks from December in hand, Central Michigan was the clear favorite.
The game started in a frenzy, with Miami’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Lauren Dickerson looking to get her shot going early — she started 1-of-4.
Characteristic to CMU, the Chippewas roared out to an early lead. By the end of the first quarter the Red and White found themselves in a 21-10 hole. Dickerson finished the quarter 1-for-9 from the field, the rest of the team 2-of-6.
“I thought we were very passive on offense, we weren’t executing much,” Duffy said. “We were just taking bad, contested outside shots.”
The ‘Hawks were able to force junior guard Presley Hudson — a MAC Player of the Year candidate — into early foul trouble. With two minutes left in the first quarter, she picked up her second foul, and would sit out the remainder of the half.
In the second quarter, CMU continued their dominant play now behind Redshirt freshman guard Michaela Kelley who stepped up in Hudson’s absence. She would finish with 16 points, three rebounds and three assists.
The Central Michigan lead increased to 27-12 with 7:05 left in the quarter, but the Chippewas would not score again in the half.
The ‘Hawks responded to their deficit with a remarkable 13-0 run, marked with tenacious defensive play from the entire team. Coach Duffy has preached the importance of defense in her first year with the program and, as her team clawed back into the game with stop after stop, the Miami bench was electrified.
At the half, the score read 27-25 with the momentum behind the RedHawks, after being seemingly outmatched minutes earlier.
Miami only shot 25 percent from the field in the first half, yet found themselves down two points to the MAC’s best.
The third quarter flew by as a fast-paced, back-and-forth battle between the two teams. Heading into the fourth, Central Michigan was up 45-42.
The ‘Hawks would even the score on their first possession in the fourth quarter, with a three-pointer from junior guard Leah Purvis.
Minutes later, the Chippewas were able to build a lead with a quick 6-2 burst, forcing Megan Duffy to call a timeout down 53-49. Out of the timeout, Redshirt junior guard Baleigh Reid scored a crucial five points for the RedHawks from a deep two-pointer and a clutch three from the corner. Known for her defense, Reid only averaged 5.0 points per game, and only attempted 12 shots from behind the arc this entire season.
The score read 54-53 favoring Miami with 4:10 to go.
CMU hit two free throws to regain the lead, but Lauren Dickerson drove to the basket and finished at the rim in back-to-back possessions, giving the ‘Hawks a 58-55 lead with 2:38 left.
After scoring a layup, and blocking two shot attempts on the defensive end, Central Michigan drove down the court, and found junior forward Reyna Frost wide open for an easy mid-range jumper. The Chippewas led 59-58 with 1:04 left in the game.
Frost, who finished as the MAC Tournament MVP, would score 18 points and grab 12 rebounds.
Miami failed to score on their next possession, and were forced to foul with 9.2 seconds left. Central Michigan made both shots, and the ‘Hawks found themselves needing a three to force overtime.
After calling a timeout to advance the ball, the RedHawks were able to find junior forward Kendall McCoy at the top of the arc, who missed the three. The offensive rebound was grabbed by Dickerson who managed to find space to fire another three. Dickerson’s shot fell short, but the ‘Hawks grabbed another offensive rebound.
Purvis’ desperate final shot was off, and the Chippewas escaped with a win.
Despite the result, the RedHawks managed to hold CMU, a team who averages over 80 points a game, to only 61. The following day in the Finals matchup against No. 2 Buffalo, CMU won 96-91.
“We’re extremely proud of what we’re doing here,” said Duffy, “The buy-in from our administrators to our coaching staff to our players — it’s been a great ride.”
In all likelihood, the season is not quite over for Duffy’s team. The seedings for the NIT Tournament are announced late Monday night.
Check miamistudent.net for updated information.