'Never a panic': CMU women take over in OT, advance to MAC title game

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It was just over a week ago that the Central Michigan women's basketball team found itself in a double-overtime game with Ball State. The Chippewas won that one, and weren't worried about going extra time Friday, either.

Sophomore guard Molly Davis had 33 points, senior guard Micaela Kelly had 32 and junior forward Jahari Smith had 19 points, 10 rebounds and took the game-changing charge as Central Michigan outlasted Ohio, 100-92, in OT in the Mid-American Conference tournament semifinals Friday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.

Central Michigan's Jahari Smith came up huge in Friday's overtime win over Ohio in the MAC tournament.

Smith was 9-for-10 from the field, and drew the charge on Ohio's CeCe Hooks with 8 seconds left in regulation and the game tied. Central Michigan missed its final shot, but Hooks, the MAC player of the year, had fouled out and didn't play the final five minutes.

"She's a total team player, she'll do whatever it takes for us to win," Central Michigan second-year coach Heather Oesterle said of Smith. "The game plan going in was to try to get some inside looks, and our guards did a good job of getting her the ball on the block.. ... We really needed that."

Two of Smith's rebounds came on the same possession, both offensive rebounds, to keep it alive for Central Michigan during a pivotal overtime stretch.

The possession ended with Kelly making a floater, and a free throw to make it 90-85 with 2 minutes, 38 seconds left.

"She was actually huge for us," Davis said of Smith. "Just her presence inside kind of opens everything else up for the rest of us guards."

Central Michigan (17-8) continued to push the lead, and made eight of nine free throws in the final 1:16 of overtime (16-for-19 for the game) to advance to Saturday's 11 a.m. championship game against top-seeded Bowling Green (20-5).

Bowling Green won the lone regular-season meeting, 76-67, in February.

BOX SCORE: Central Michigan 100, Ohio 92 (OT)

Central Michigan, the No. 2 seed, is trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight time. It lost as a No. 1 seed in the MAC tournament last season, but was to be awarded the automatic NCAA bid after the tournament was eventually canceled. Then the NCAA canceled, too, because of COVID-19.

"We made the hustle plays down the stretch when we needed to," Oesterle said. "There's never really a panic in this team."

On Bowling Green, a great defensive team, Oesterle said, "We've got our hands full."

Bowling Green beat No. 4 Buffalo, 80-67, earlier Friday.

Central Michigan was playing without senior forward Kyra Bussell, for an unknown injury, leaving the Chippewas with just seven players (several others are out for quarantine). Oesterle said she's hopeful Bussell will be ready to play Saturday.

Central Michigan made 14 3-pointers, on 35 attempts; Davis was 5-for-10. For Kelly, the former Detroit King standout, this was her sixth 30-point game of the season; it was Davis' third. Senior guard Maddy Watters added 10 points for Central Michigan.

Hooks and Erica Johnson led Ohio with 23 points each.

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MAC women's tournament

At Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland

WEDNESDAY

►No. 1 Bowling Green 63, No. 8 Eastern Michigan 47

►No. 4 Buffalo 73, No. 5 Kent State 66

►No. 2 Central Michigan 83, No. 7 Northern Illinois 69

►No. 3 Ohio 61, No. 6 Ball State 59

FRIDAY

►No. 1 Bowling Green 80, No. 4 Buffalo 67

►No. 2 Central Michigan 100, No. 3 Ohio 92

SATURDAY

►Championship, No. 1 Bowling Green (20-5) vs. No. 3 Central Michigan (17-8), 11 a.m. (CBSSN)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984