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CMU finds identity, 'wins and moves' onto MAC championship

Central Michigan advances to the Mid-American Conference championship tomorrow against Buffalo. Tinara Moore and Cassandra Breen dominated for the Chippewas. Joining Breen from beyond the arc, Presley Hudson hit her share of threes as well.

The MAC

Cleveland, OH -- No. 2 Central Michigan buried No. 6 Eastern Michigan with a 32-point third quarter to put the game out of reach in a Mid-American Conference semifinal contest on Friday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena. The Chippewas (22-9, 16-4 MAC) collected a dominant 86-71 win over the Eagles (21-11, 11-9 MAC) to advance to the MAC championship tomorrow.

"I think our athletic director, Dave Heeke just said it: Win and move on," Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. "I will tell you; I  was very pleased with our team in the second half. Even in the first half, I thought, again, we withstood a good Eastern Michigan team. We had some challenges that were asked of our players, and they accepted those challenges.

"And again, I just thought composure down the stretch, even when we were behind, when we take the lead, I just couldn't be happier for this team. We're in the championship game."

Eastern Michigan entered the game firing on all cylinders, but fell flat following a dominant first quarter as Central Michigan picked up the pieces and took control.

Behind a 24-point effort in the first quarter, Eastern Michigan carried a 41-37 lead into halftime. At the intermission, the Eagles already had two in double figures — Phillis Webb led in scoring with 18 points and Janay Morton totaled 10 points. Central Michigan was led by Tinara Moore with 13 points.

The Eagles bested the Chippewas in the paint (10-8), on points off turnovers (7-6), on second-chance points (9-2) and in transition on fast break points (7-3). They also led by as many as 13 points in the first half and maintained the lead for 18 of the first 20 minutes.

Incidentally, Central Michigan got focused and turned the tables after the break.

The first minute of the third period was balanced; however, Central Michigan spurred a 12-0 run over two and a half minutes to push the score in their favor at 52-45. Eastern Michigan cut its deficit to four points, 54-50, but the Chippewas answered again on a Cassie Breen 3-pointer to maintain the seven-point edge with 4:21 left in the period.

The Eagles battled to make it a one-possession game again, cutting its deficit to 59-56, but the spurt fizzled out as the Chippewas pushed out on a 10-2 run to close the period with a 69-58 advantage.

From there, Central Michigan continued to dominate and put the game out of reach. Ball movement was key for Central Michigan in its most dominant quarter of the game.

"I think it was just the inside out that we've been having with our post players and with our guards," Breen said. "We really love to share the ball, if you couldn't tell. We really move it very well, and I think that helps, especially when you're playing a zone like Eastern played us."

Breen finished as the leading scorer with 24 points for Central Michigan on an 8-of-14 shooting performance from 3-point range, managing 50 percent accuracy overall.

While Breen generated the most offense, both Moore and Jewel Cotton finished the contest with double-doubles. Moore was second in scoring with 21 points and second in rebounding with 11 boards. Cotton led on the glass with a game-high 14 rebounds and added 12 points to complete her double-double.

"We know we need to win so we're going to do whatever we need to do to win and for Jewel and I, we need to get those rebounds to help our team out," Moore said.

The Chippewas will advance to play No. 8 University of Buffalo in a championship matchup at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Quicken Loans Arena.

Earlier this season, the Bulls downed the Chippewas, 67-61, in the teams' only regular-season bout. However, Central Michigan is confident in its growth, moving into the championship against the tournament's wild card to this point.

"I think overall we've found our identity as a team," Cotton said. "We're a new team and that's one thing that we didn't have was identity. We were trying to find our self through this path and through this season, so I think tomorrow is going to be the biggest game we play tomorrow, so we're going to work on our performance, what we can do and come up with a championship."

Guevara anticipates the stronger bench in tomorrow's championship showdown as being the biggest key to victory.

"As I said in the locker room today, Buffalo, they played quite a few of their starters a lot of minutes, we played quite a few of our starters a lot of minutes," Guevara said. "So guess what, this is how important the bench is.  We've been saying it all year, Jasmine Harris came in, gave us a couple good months. I expect Amani Corley and Aleah Swary to come in and give us some minutes, and I expect Reyna Frost to play.

"But I will tell you this; no one's going to be tired. The adrenaline is going to go for 40 or 45 minutes because it's the championship game. There's no room for tired."