Central Michigan pushes top-seeded Toledo to brink before losing MAC tourney thriller

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Tony Barbee's first season as Central Michigan's head men's basketball season has come to an end, but not before giving top-seeded Toledo a serious scare.

The Chippewas erased a seven-point deficit with two-and-a-half minutes to go and eventually took a one-point lead, but the Rockets pulled out a 72-71 win in the opening game of the Mid-American Conference tournament Thursday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.

Central Michigan, the last team to make the tournament as the No. 8 seed, had a final shot to win it, but Harrison Henderson's rushed 3-point shot missed badly at the buzzer.

Central Michigan head coach Tony Barbee.

It was Henderson, a graduate-transfer forward, who put Central Michigan ahead by a point with a dunk with 20 seconds remaining.

"We haven't played very many close games," Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "Give Tony and his team credit. They've been fighting all year and getting better and better."

In fact, Toledo's only two close games in the last month came against Central Michigan, which lost, 68-66, at Toledo on Feb. 19. In four of its last six losses, the Chippewas lost by one point twice and two points twice.

The Chippewas (7-23) were in this game the entire way, leading, 32-30, at halftime.

The Rockets got their offense going in the second half, but the Chippewas answered most every time, before Toledo took a seven-point lead, 68-61, on a layup from junior forward Setric Millner Jr. (Grand Rapids Christian) with 3:33 left.

With 2:29 left, Toledo's Ryan Rollins (Macomb Dakota) fouled Henderson, who made his first, and missed the second — but junior swingman Brian Taylor (Detroit Edison) grabbed the rebound and put it back to pull the Chippewas with 68-64.

After Rollins made a pair of free throws on the other end, redshirt senior forward Ralph Bissainthe, one of the few holdovers from last year's roster under Keno Davis, answered with a layup.

With 57 seconds left, Henderson made a layup and was fouled. He made the free throw, and it was 70-69. 

Rollins missed a jumper, Taylor grabbed the rebound and, after a Central Michigan timeout, freshman guard Kevin Miller found Henderson for a dunk to give Central Michigan a 71-70 lead with 20 seconds left.

Toledo, though, answered again, with junior guard RayJ Dennis going the length of the court for a go-ahead floater, putting the Rockets up, 72-71, with 10 seconds left.

Barbee called his team's final timeout, and after the break, Taylor tried getting the ball into Henderson, but good Toledo defense forced a turnover, the ball going off Henderson's knee and out of bounds.

In foul mode, the Chippewas sent Rollins to the line for a one-and-one — and he missed the first one, with Henderson rebounding. Central Michigan had no timeouts left, so it pushed and Miller, rather than keep moving downhill toward the basket, dished to Henderson, who let fly a wild, desperate 3 that missed, ricocheting high off the glass as time expired.

Henderson, who is at his fourth school (Southern Cal, Milwaukee, then Southern), finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Taylor had 15 points and two blocks, and Miller 13 for the Chippewas, the only state of Michigan representative in the MAC tournament.

For the Rockets, looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1980, Millner had 22 points, Rollins 14, Dennis 13 and junior forward JT Shumate 12. Dennis also had three steals.

Toledo advances to a 5 p.m. Friday semifinal, against either No. 4 Akron or No. 5 Buffalo.

MAC men's tournament

At Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland

Thursday

►No. 1 Toledo 72, No. 8 Central Michigan 71

►No. 4 Akron 70, No. 5 Buffalo 68

►No. 2 Kent State 85, No. 7 Miami 75

►No. 6 Ball State (14-16) vs. No. 3 Ohio (23-8)

Friday

►No. 4 Akron (22-9) vs. No. 1 Toledo (26-6), 5, CBSSN

►TB vs. No. 2 Kent State (22-9), 7:30, CBSSN

Saturday

►Championship, 7:30, ESPN2

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984