CLEVELAND, OH (AP) — Micaela Kelly scored 29 points, Molly Davis added 23 and second-seeded Central Michigan edged top-seeded Bowling Green 77-72 on Saturday for the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship and the Chippewas’ sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Central Michigan, which has just eight healthy players and went to overtime in the semifinals, made the key plays down the stretch against a young Falcons’ team that hadn’t won a title since 2011 or a tournament game in six years.
Davis hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with five minutes to play and her 3-pointer with just under a minute to go capped a 10-0 run for a 75-67 lead.
Bowling Green, which starts three freshman, a sophomore and junior, missed three shots and had two turnovers in an almost 4 1/2-minute dry spell.
Maddy Watters added 11 points for the Chippewas (18-8), who last went to the NCAA Tournament in 2019 after the previous team made the Sweet 16 when Kelly and Watters were freshmen.
Kelly had just four points at halftime.
“To have the first half that she had today, she’s too big of a player and she loves these moments,” Central Michigan coach Heather Oesterle said. “We were all talking about this coming full circle. ... I’m pretty emotional but I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Elissa Brett scored 18 points to lead the Falcons (20-6), who were 10-21 last season and picked to finish 11th among the 12 MAC teams. Lexi Fleming scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Nyla Hampton and Kadie Hempfling both added 11 points.
Bowling Green had its best season since the 2013-14 team went 30-5 and its 14 league wins surpassed the total of the last four seasons combined (12). The Falcons are now 11-3 in title games.
After the teams played to a stalemate in the first half, the third quarter was wild, ending with the Chippewas up 61-60.
First off, Kelly scored 20 points, 15 of them in barely four minutes to boost Central Michigan to a double-figure lead. Bowling Green, down a dozen midway through, made five straight baskets, three of them 3-pointers and took a 56-55 lead at the 1:54 mark.
The Chippewas started the season practicing outside and are still going.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity this year, like every other team, but we got through it,” Oesterle said. “We had some ups and downs during the season, some people were questioning what we were doing but that makes this all the sweeter because we did go through some of those bumps during the year.”