WMU Claims MAC Tournament

Western Michigan University won its first Mid-American Conference Tournament title since 1985 with an 81-76 victory over Ball State University in the championship game Saturday (March 15) at Gund Arena in Cleveland.

The fourth-seeded Broncos (20-11), who were making their first championship-game appearance since 1988, took their first lead moments before halftime and never trailed in the second half in earning the MAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Western Michigan sophomore Casey Rost (St. Johns, Mich./St. Johns), who was selected the tournament's Most Valuable Player, led a balanced attack with 20 points, including 15 in the second half.

After falling behind 11-2, Western Michigan tied the game at 34-34 on a three-pointer by senior Curleta Harris (St. Louis, Mo./Metro Academic and Classical) at the 1:18 mark of the first half. Harris then gave the Broncos their first lead at 39-37 with a jumper eight seconds before halftime.

In the second half, Western Michigan pushed its lead to as many as 13 (60-47) with 10 1/2 minutes left but third-seeded Ball State responded with a 27-14 run to tie it at 74-74 with 2:36 remaining on a three-pointer by sophomore Kate Endress (Evansville, Ind./Memorial), who scored 17 points in the comeback run. The teams then traded baskets before Western Michigan's Lori Crisman (Rushville, Ill./Rushville) hit a layup with 1:06 remaining, and the Broncos hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 21 seconds to ice the game.

Harris scored 17 points for Western Michigan, while sophomore Kelly Koerber (Flint, Mich./Powers Catholic) added 13 off the bench, including 11 in the first half. Junior Kristin Koetsier (Grandville, Mich./Grandville) recorded her sixth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Endress led the Cardinals (20-9) with a game-high 26 points, hitting 10-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-4 three-pointers. Junior Johna Goff (Fortville, Ind./Mount Vernon) poured in 17 points, with 15 of those in the first half on five three-pointers, and senior Tamara Bowie (Lansing, Mich./Sexton), a two-time MAC regular-season MVP, added 14.

Western Michigan, which came into the postseason as the nation's fourth-leading scoring team, set a tournament record with 329 points in its four victories (82.2 ppg), and Rost set a tournament individual mark with 80 points (20 ppg).

Rost was joined on the all-tournament team by Jilian, Bowie, Endress and the University of Toledo's Karin Hoogendam (St. Catharines, Ontario/Governor Simcoe).

With the win, the Broncos reached 20 wins for the first time since the 1977-78 season and only the third time in school history.

Ball State, which shared the MAC regular-season title with Toledo, lost in the championship game for the second straight season after falling to Kent State University 73-59 in 2002.

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