DeKalb, Ill. - Junior Crystal Bradford led four players in double figures with 29 points and Central Michigan got back to its winning ways to clinch its first Mid-American Conference West Division title in program history with a victory at Northern Illinois, 85-77.
Bradford went 9-for-19 from the field and hit a career-high 10 free throws to score her 29 points, adding 10 rebounds for her 18th double-double of the season. Junior Jas'Mine Bracey recorded a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds, while junior Kerby Tamm and senior Niki DiGuilio had 12 and 10 points respectively.
The win improves the Chippewas to 17-9 overall and 13-1 in conference play, securing at least a top-four seed and a double bye through the first two rounds of the MAC Tournament.
The Chippewas led by just one, 34-33, at halftime following despite shooting 43.8 percent (14-for-32) from the floor and knocking down 4-of-10 three-point field goals. NIU was able to stick with the Chippewas thanks to hitting all nine of its free throw attempts in the first half and took advantage of seven CMU turnovers that turned into 14 points.
The second half was CMU's time to take advantage at the charity stripe as the Chippewas hit 17 free throws to NIU's four in the final 20 minutes.
After falling behind 44-40 with 14:36 to go, the Chippewas got a spark from Bradford and classmate Jessica Green as the two combined to score CMU's next 12 points. The Chippewas outscored the Huskies 12-5 during the stretch that included a pair of three-point plays by Bradford and a pair of jumpers by Green.
Green came up with a steal which led to a three-point play by sophomore Da'Jourie Turner that gave the Chippewas a 55-49 advantage with 11:49 to play. NIU pulled within four, 62-58, with 8:11 to play, but senior Taylor Johnson and Bradford hit back-to-back triples and Turner drove through the heart of the defense to extend the lead to 10, 70-60, at the 6:14 mark.
NIU went on a 10-4 run over the next three minutes to cut the lead to four again, 74-70, but DiGuilio knocked down a three on an assist from Tamm and Bracey sealed her double-double with a three-point play with 1:47 to play to push CMU's lead to eight, 80-72.
The Huskies attempted to extend the game by sending CMU to the line and the Chippewas split six attemps before Ashley Sneed hit a three with 1:09 to play to cut the lead to six, 83-77. Bradford missed a pair of free throws, but Bracey came up with a huge offensive rebound and Tamm knocked down a pair at the line to ice the game.
CMU is back in action on Thursday, Feb. 27 when it hosts Ball State at 7 p.m.