The Mid-American Conference champion, seeded 11th in the regional, dominated the boards and hit some timely 3-pointers to upset No. 6 Louisiana State 78-69 in an opening-round game. The Chippewas (29-4) move on to play host Ohio State on Monday night.
Central Michigan forward Tinara Moore was a big reason why. The 6-foot-3 senior scored 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Chippewas, who had lost in their first three trips to the NCAAs. They got in the tournament for the first time in five years by upsetting Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
"I was pretty confident in our team," Moore said. "Our whole team knew we could play with them the whole four quarters."
She and Central Michigan dominated inside, outrebounding the Southeastern Conference team 40-27 and creating more second chances. Reyna Frost had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Chippewas before fouling out late in the game.
"They controlled the tempo of the game with their board play," LSU coach Nikki Fargas said.
Central Michigan, which became the first MAC team to win since 2009, led by as many as 11 in the second half. A 6-0 LSU run reduced the lead to five, but the Tigers couldn't get any closer, despite limiting the Chippewas to only a half-dozen foul shots in the last 4 ½ minutes.
Micaela Kelly had 17 points for Central Michigan, and Presley Hudson added 12.
Chloe Jackson had 24 points, and Ayana Mitchell had 16 points and nine rebounds for LSU, which made its 26th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It had reached the Final Four five times, most recently in 2008. The Tigers were missing Faustine Aifuwa, who stayed back at school for violating an unspecified team rule.
Central Michigan jumped out to a 25-16 lead at the end of the first period on the strength of 11 for 19 shooting, including 3 for 7 from 3-point range. Hudson, one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation, had a pair in that opening period. LSU reduced the deficit to two points at the half, 40-38, on the strength of an 11-2 run.
"Our players came out and threw the first punch," Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. "Such a big game not just for us but for our conference."
Central Michigan: Arguably the biggest win in program history. Moore was terrific inside and the Chippewas shot 50 percent from the field.
LSU: Central Michigan neutralizes Jackson to kill the Tigers' dream of advancing to the Final Four on the 10-year anniversary of its last trip.
Central Michigan's 3-point shooting was critical partly because LSU couldn't hit them. Kelly was 3 for 4 and the Chippewas finished 7 for 19 from beyond the arc, although slightly below their season average. LSU was just 2 for 14.
Central Michigan had a good number of fans who drove the five hours down from Mount Pleasant. Because of high school tournament commitments at Ohio State's usual home court, Value City Arena, the game was played at St. John Arena, the 62-year-old structure that seats 6,000 fewer and puts spectators closer to the floor.
"We had a lot of fans here," Moore said. "I'll probably never forget that, the support we had."
Chippewas advance to the regional final on Monday against No. 3 Ohio State.