Bowling Green guard Lexi Fleming missed all last year because of an ACL injury. This year, the 5-foot-5 junior guard is proving she can be invincible.
Fleming went down with what appeared to be a serious injury just three minutes and 19 seconds into the game.
She came back wearing a knee brace in the second half, scoring 14 points, to lead the Falcons to a 66-57 Mid-American Conference victory over Kent State at the Stroh Center Saturday.
BGSU coach Robyn Fralick said it was almost as if Fleming and the Falcons willed their way to a win.
“You know effort is a super-power,” Fralick said. “In the game of basketball, effort it is actually a difference maker.
“I always laugh because like in golf, you can’t always just try harder — that doesn’t always work — but in basketball you can. Effort is something you can control and it’s something we’ve really built an identity around.”
Fleming, who had a contingent of family and friends in attendance, is the fourth player on the Falcons’ roster to be sporting a knee brace.
It did not help any that Saturday’s matchup was physical with players getting knocked to the floor at a regular pace, but BG won their fourth straight conference game.
“I thought it was a great way to find a way to win ugly,” Fralick said. “This was a gauntlet of a stretch — at Akron we had a furious comeback, Toledo at home we had an emotional game.
“We had a lot of challenges and adversity thrust on us this week, and then we grind out a win today. I thought our defense, our rebounding and our toughness really stood strong in a game that was kind of choppy. I thought we did some real good things and beat a good Kent State team.”
Fleming’s resilience helped the first place Falcons improve to 16-2 overall and 5-1 in the MAC, while Kent State falls to 11-6 and 3-3.
Her knee well supported, Fleming hit 4-of-4 three-point shots in the second half, including a couple from NBA range that found nothing but net, plus she also had two key assists. Despite her effort, she would prefer to credit her teammates.
“I don’t think in any sport you want to see someone going down like that,” Fleming said. “But I think it was unbelievable with the team coming together.
“It’s still true that one through 15 has a role. We all buy into our role. Well came together as a team and we all connected tonight.”
Fralick said it was a no-brainer putting Fleming back into the game, even though she is the second starter to go down this season.
“She’s huge,” Fralick said. “She had timely shots again and again today. I just felt like every time they were on a run, or we really needed to score, she stepped up and made a big play. It was great that she was able to come back in the second half and help us.”
In a chaotic game that saw 42 personal fouls whistled, BGSU sophomore guard Jocelyn Tate and senior guard Elissa Brett crashed the boards, both getting double-doubles and giving the Falcons a 41-34 edge off the glass.
Tate had 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals and Brett had 11 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Fralick said their presence was needed on both ends of the floor.
“It was huge. We didn’t shoot the ball well. It was kind of a mucky game,” Fralick said. “I thought our defense was excellent.
“They have a lot of kids who can shoot, play in space, and I thought we moved with great effort across the board — all five — we moved well together. Our halfcourt defense really dialed in.”
BGSU 6-1 senior forward Allison Day was well-defended in the paint, but she scored three straight field goals at the low post, leading the Falcons on a 6-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
It could not have come at a better time as the Golden Flashes were slowly trying to close in after the Falcons opened a 21-10 first quarter lead. Day finished with 13 points.
Neither team shot well, in part because of the scrappy play by both teams’ defenses. For one of the few times this season, the Falcons had more turnovers than their opponents — BGSU had 20 and Kent State had 19, but the Golden Flashes committed 10 in the first quarter.
BGSU made 23-of-53 field goals (43%), including 6-for-18 from downtown, and made 14-of-18 free throws. Kent State was 21-for-59 (36%) from the floor, 5-for-19 (26%) from beyond the arc and made 10-of-18 from the charity stripe.
BGSU sophomore guard Amy Velasco scored six points, junior guard Nyla Hampton had four points and three assists, and 6-2 junior forward Sophie Dziekan and 6-0 junior forward Olivia Hill added two points apiece.
Lindsey Thall, a 6-2 graduate forward, led the Golden Flashes with 15 points, freshman guard Corynne Hauser had 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists and senior guard Clare Kelly scored 10 points.
Kent State junior guard Casey Santoro had seven points, four rebounds and two assists and freshman guard Tatiana Thomas had four points and five rebounds.
In addition, 6-3 sophomore forward Bridgett Dunn had three points, seven rebounds and blocked two shots, plus she had the job of guarding Day in the post, blocking two of her shots. Senior guard Katie Shumate scored three points and freshman guard Dionna Gray added two points for the Flashes.
Fralick said one of her favorite takeaways from the win was the crowd interaction at the Stroh Center.
“We’ve got an amazing crowd. We love playing at home. We love our fans — thanks for showing up this week,” Fralick said. “We can’t wait to be back home soon and playing in front of our home crowd.”