Toledo battled back from a 10-point halftime deficit but came up just short in its comeback effort, falling to Central Michigan, 66-61, in semifinal action of the Mid-American Conference Tournament Friday in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Toledo, which never led in the game and trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half, cut the lead to one, 62-61, on an offensive rebound and put-back by senior Lecretia Smith with 34 seconds remaining. The Rockets got the ball back right away when CMU was whistled for a foul on the ensuing in-bound play, but sophomore Inma Zanoguera’s layup was blocked and a short jumper by senior Naama Shafir was off the mark.
CMU’s Taylor Johnson then made two free throws, and Shafir’s three-point attempt with seven seconds left was blocked, snapping Toledo’s 15-game winning streak.
Zanoguera led UT with 16 points, while Shafir added 15. Senior Yolanda Richardson had 13 points and 10 rebounds to post her third double-double of the season.
CMU was paced by sophomore Crystal Bradford’s game-high 20 points.
Central Michigan (20-11) advances to the MAC Championship Game, while Toledo (27-3), the regular-season MAC Champion, will have to hope for an at-large berth when the NCAA Tournament field is announced Monday.
CMU came out smoking hot from the field, hitting its first four shots of the game, all from three-point range, jumping out to an early 12-4 lead. Toledo battled back, cutting the lead to 14-10 on a jumper by Shafir with 15:06 to play in the half. But CMU countered with a 13-5 run to boost its lead to 27-15 with 8:35 left. The Chippewas maintained a double-digit cushion for most the remainder of the half, settling on a 40-30 edge at the beak.
Zanoguera paced UT in the first 20 minutes with 12 points on five of seven from the field. CMU shot 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, including six of 12 from three-point range; Toledo was 13-of-31 (41.9 percent).
Toledo cut the lead to seven, 40-33, on a Richardson layup with 18:10 left to play. A few moments later, the Rockets got a big lift when both Bradford and Taylor Johnson each picked up her fourth foul within a minute of each other. CMU had a 47-38 lead when Bradford headed to the bench with 14:10 to play, and the Rockets cut the margin down to 49-47 when she and Johnson checked back in at the 8:55 mark.
CMU pushed the lead back up to four, 51-47, on a Bradford layup. The two teams then exchanged baskets over the next few minutes, with the CMU lead bouncing between two and four points. A pair of free throws by Johnson with 4:27 left extended the CMU lead to six, 57-51.
Toledo then went on a 6-0 run, capped by a Richardson layup to cut the lead to one, 60-59, with 1:12 left. Bradford scored on an offensive rebound to bump CMU’s lead back up to three, 62-59, with 44 seconds left. Toledo came right back on an offensive rebound and put-back by Smith and then got a huge break when CMU’s Brandie Baker was whistled for a foul on the ensuing in-bounds play. But Toledo failed to take advantage on the in-bounds play, and a late three-pointer by Shafir was blocked, ending the Rockets’ goal of winning their first MAC Tournament since 2001.