Toledo's Kelly Walker drives against Marshall's Amy Reed. Walker scored 17 points as the Rockets advanced.
CLEVELAND - The top-seeded University of Toledo women's basketball team was cruising to an easy victory over Marshall yesterday in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
The Rockets were up by 20 points with 6:16 to play, then a foul-fest began and the game turned ugly.
No. 9 seed Marshall pulled to within nine points with one minute to go, but the Rockets made their last 10 free throws, including eight by junior point guard Mary Blessing, to sink the Thundering Herd 80-66 in Gund Arena.
“It's good to win a game here again,” UT coach Mark Ehlen said. “Last year we lost the first game out [to Northern Illinois], so it's good to advance. At this point of the year, the goal is to win and advance and you don't care how you do it.
“I thought for a good two-thirds of the game, or a good three-fourths of the game, we pretty much did what we wanted to do. Obviously, the last eight minutes or so was like a ... I don't know what you'd call it. I don't remember running much offense the last few minutes of the game.
Mary Blessing tied a career high with 19 points.
“But we gained our composure and made our free throws down the stretch, and that was the key.”
Toledo was held to just one field goal in the last 5:27, but the Rockets (20-8) made 18 of 28 free throws in the last four minutes to advance to tomorrow's semifinals, when they will take on No. 4 seed Western Michigan (18-11) at noon. The Broncos ousted defending champion Kent State 87-72.
“They were fouling and then we were turning around and fouling and it did slow the game down a lot and it got a little sloppy,” said Blessing, who was held to only two field goals but made 14 of 20 free throws and matched her career high with 19 points. “It was hard to get into the flow.
“But we were able to knock down our free throws and that was big. Never in my life have I shot that many foul shots. I don't even think in five games total I've ever shot 20 free throws.”
The teams combined for 51 fouls, including 37 in the second half.
“It made it ugly,” Marshall coach Royce Chadwick said. ``We said, `Let's put them at the line and see what they can do.' We were trying to win.”
Toledo made 31 of 42 free throw attempts (73.8 percent), and Marshall made 17 of 26 (65.4 percent). Four players fouled out for the Thundering Herd (12-17); one player for the Rockets.
“Marshall knew what they had to do to come back,” Ehlen said, “and they made a good run. We knew they were going to press us, and we knew they were going to face-guard.
“I don't think we handled it very well and we didn't keep our composure until later in the game. The important thing is that we did regain our composure; we were able to make some passes and make our free throws.”
Three players in addition to Blessing scored in double figures for UT - Kelly Walker with 17 points, Teresa Kahle with 15 and Karin Hoogendam with 10. Kahle had 13 of her points in the second half and Hoogendam added nine rebounds before fouling out with 3:39 remaining.
Sikeetha Shepard-Hall scored 24 points for Marshall. Amy Reed added 15 points and Caite Knable 10 rebounds.
Toledo shot 52.5 percent from the field (21 of 40) and 53.8 from 3-point range (7 of 13). The Rockets improved to 15-0 as the No. 1 seed while reaching 20 wins for the 12th time in the last 15 years. They also have reached the semifinals of the MAC Tournament seven of the last eight seasons.
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