The MAC Tournament got off to a stunning start today when No. 8 Western Michigan — quite clearly the weakest team left in the field — upset regular-season champion Central Michigan, 67-63.
Western fell behind 22-6 and trailed by double digits at halftime. It wasn’t hugely unlike the Kent State men’s game against Central on Monday.
Western turned up its defense in the second half and took its first lead on a three-point shot by Najee Smith with 11 seconds to go.
But the thing that struck me about the game was the terrific defense Western played in the last two minutes. The Broncos forced — and I really mean forced with steals and pressure — three turnovers in the last minute. Western sophomore Deja Wimby, the conference leader in steals who was just named to the MAC all-defensive team — absolutely owned Central Michigan point guard Presley Hudson at the end. Hudson just made the all-MAC first team and was freshman of the year last season. She’s one of the best point guards in the conference.
No. 3 seed Kent State plays No. 6 Toledo in tonight’s last quarterfinal game. (Here’s preview.)
The Flashes and Western played once during the regular season. KSU came from 14 points down in the first half to win at Western, 71-67, on Jan. 8. Wimby had 17 points, 7 assists and 5 steals in that game. Kent State’s star was 6-4 sophomore forward Merissa Barber-Smith, who came off the bench to get 11 rebounds in the second half against Western’s big front line. Larissa Lurken had 26 points and Jordan 15 for the Flashes.
Good things about Kent State in other places today:
A nice video on the team, with season highlights and interviews with players and coaches, is on the Kent State athletic Facebook Live page.
Cleveland.com (the Plain Dealer) focused on coach Todd Starkey and his work to turn the program around.
The Record-Courier’s preview has nice interviews with Starkey, Lurken and Athletic Director Joel Nielsen. It’s behind a paywall. You have to pay $2 for short-term access to the site.
Some images from the Kent State athletics Twitter feed today:
Practice at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday. None of KSU’s player had ever been on an NBA court before.
This season in one graphic. (RPI is a measure of ranking teams that takes into account its record and the quality of its opposition. It’s used to some extent in determining seedings for the NCAA Tournament.)