FAIRBORN — A good dose of teamwork and clutch play enabled the Wright State University women’s basketball team to hang on for a 66-64 win over Central Michigan University, in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, Thursday March 16 at the Nutter Center.
Raiders scoring leader Chelsea Welch finished with a game-high 21 points and Symone Simmons knocked in 20 points with seven rebounds, but it was Mackenzie Taylor’s driving layup from the left side on a broken play that proved to be the winning basket.
Taylor scored to give WSU a 65-64 lead with 49.7 seconds left in the game, and Emily Vogelpohl extended the Raiders’ lead to 66-64 with a made free throw with 21.7 seconds left.
Wright State coach Katrina Merriweather said the play was meant to be a Taylor 3-point shot.
“I’ll tell you what was funny. That horns play was for her to get a three,” Merriweather said. “Well, she’s standing (on the court) by me, and I said to her ‘Hey, Mack. Are you ready?’ and she goes ‘Yeah.’ Well, they covered it, and so she drove in and layed it in. So now I know that ‘ready’ means ‘are you ready to score?’ and not just to hit the three.
“As great of a player as Chelsea Welch is, the reason why she’s able to be that way is because we have so many other threats around her,” Merriweather said. “If the other four weren’t any good, then she would get 20 points off of 30 shots and we would not win basketball games.”
With the win, Wright State (25-8) advances to the second round of the WNIT tournament where they’ll get a rematch with Michigan. The Wolverines defeated Wright State, 81-53, in the WNIT tourney last season. The rematch will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 18 in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Chrysler Arena.
Welch said Thursday’s win was very exciting for herself and her Raider teammates.
“I think they were one of the fastest teams we’ve played this whole year. So, it was really exciting,” Welch said. “Just playing up-tempo with them and trying to match their quickness, trying to slow them down and take them out of their game when we needed to slow down … it was really exciting.”
CMU (23-9) was also a taller team. The Raiders starting lineup was 5-foot-11 or shorter, and that created a tough rebounding task against the likes of 6-3 Tinora Moore, 6-2 Jewel Cotton and the six other Chippewa players who were listd as 6-foot or taller.
Moore finished with 17 points and rolled an inside shot off the rim as time expired. Cassie Breen led Central Michigan with a 20-point performance. The Chippewas out-rebounded Wright State 40-30 for the game.
When asked about Simmons’ performance, Merriweather had to smile.
“I’m just excited for her. All these girls wanna win, and sometimes it doesn’t happen the way she wants it,” Merriweather explained. “She is our wild card. If she’s going to shoot threes, she can make 3-4 of them. But she can drive to the rim — she’s grabbed 18 rebounds for us in a game before. You know she’s going to be productive somehow, you just have no idea how!”
Now the Raiders go up against an even bigger school in Big Ten juggernaut Michigan.
“We’ve been doing it almost every game, so it’s nothing different,” Welch said. “Just the name. We’re just going to go into it just like we go into every game. We’ll prepare, just like we do for every game, and just play hard.”
You can reach John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.