A layup from redshirt junior guard Shay Colley with 7.3 seconds left in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, sealed the deal to send the Spartans to the second round to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
“That was a heck of a ball game. We just didn’t have an answer inside.” Central Michigan’s head coach Sue Guevara said. “My heart couldn’t be happier with the effort that we gave. We were down 11 at one point and it would have been easy to pack it in and we didn’t, we kept fighting.”
CMU outplayed MSU in the post in the first half, but were countered with an adjustment MSU coach Suzy Merchant thought was necessary in order to stop senior forward Reyna Frost.
“She’s a great player. I was just surprised at how poorly of a job we did on her, but give that credit to her," Merchant said. "She was the heart and soul … we had no answer for her …. I thought we did a better job in the second half, trying to deter the ball from going in (the paint).”
Frost scored 25 first half points and ended her college career with 34 points and seven rebounds in the first round matchup against the Spartans.
“You always want to play the big schools, you want to get your name out there and I think we did a good job playing some big schools, non-conference, but we just never got that schedule to work out,” Frost said.
This was the first time in Merchants’ 12 year tenure of facing her alma mater.
"Just really proud of this group. We’ve had some really great moments in our season and we’ve struggled some times. Just to see them come together, they were really coming in on both sides of the ball.” Merchant said.
The Spartans’ depth also played a big factor, as sophomore forward Sidney Cooks had a team-high 21 points off the bench.
“Coach has really been on us … I was focused on that, using my height and speed as an advantage today and it really worked out and I was able to make my shots.” Cooks said. “(We’re feeling) definitely confident. We know everyone’s abilities on this team and if we really lock in on our roles and mentally prepare ourselves for the next team, we could really beat anybody. It’s just a matter of preparing ourselves the right way and being ready to play.”
CMU played three of their five starters for all 40 minutes, which has been a pattern over the season and the lack of depth may have cost them the win.
“I went in at halftime and challenged our perimeter players. I didn’t think our perimeter players were being very aggressive looking to shoot the ball, looking to attack .” Guevara said about the first half dependency on Frost, who had more than half of CMU’s points at halftime. “I thought our guards did a better job of attacking and taking shots, more than they did in the first half, just to ease some of the pressure off of Reyna.”
Colley was thrilled with the opportunity to shoot the game winning bucket to earn her team the victory to advance in the tournament.
“We were looking for a bucket to win the game and coach trusted me to make that last play and I did," Colley said. "I’m just happy to have my teammates and coaching staff behind me.”
The third quarter slump that has played a big role in the Spartans’ season seemed to have disappeared against the Chippewas.
“I loved how we just made plays and stops. Just really proud of this group, they played their hearts out.” Merchant said about her team's second half performance.
With 22 second chance points, 29 bench points and 52 points in the paint, the Spartans showed that they are ready for the post season and a run in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re sharing the ball more at the end of the year … I think everyone is feeling good on offense and playing confident. Our defense is really intense, we know what time of year it is. I’m confident going in with this team,” junior guard Taryn McCutcheon said about the team’s generosity and the success they have seen when everyone shares the ball.
The Spartans will face the Fighting Irish on their home court on March 25.