Before the final home game of her career, Bowling Green State University senior forward Kadie Hempfling sang the national anthem in front of 2,019 fans at the Stroh Center, then the Falcons proceeded to take down Ball State, 81-76, in overtime.
It sets up a showdown for the Mid-American Conference regular season championship as the Falcons (24-4 overall, 14-3 MAC) take on Toledo (23-4, 14-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Savage Arena. Ball State follows in third place at 22-7 and 13-4.
BGSU senior guard Elissa Brett scored 18 in the first half and finished with 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.
However, it was the overtime play of 5-foot-5 junior guard Lexi Fleming and 5-10 sophomore guard Jocelyn Tate that rallied the troops to victory.
Fleming had two overtime steals and made 8-of-9 free throws and Tate had perhaps the biggest steal of the game as the Falcons overcame a five-point deficit, 73-68, to finish on a 13-3 run.
Most of Fleming’s free throws came off drives to the basket because the Cardinals were sticking to the Falcons on the perimeter, especially after Brett made two triples in the first quarter.
“We had a game plan and the coaches were telling us that we had to play our basketball, and we switched a little bit, taking it to them, and we knew that we could knock down free throws,” Fleming said. “So those were two factors.”
After Fleming hit two of her eight made free throws during the overtime comeback, Tate intuitively gathered in Ball State’s carelessly thrown inbounds pass, and she was fouled going to the hoop, hitting one of two from the stripe to put the Falcons up, 77-75.
The Falcons drill for that kind of steal, and it paid off after the Falcons had gotten down by two possessions early in overtime. In overtime, they forced five turnovers, all of them steals.
“We knew they had momentum going for them and we have to turn it around and put it on us,” Fleming said. “So, a quick stop (and) a layup — we have a drill at practice called ‘Stop, score, stop,’ and that is exactly what we did.”
Fleming finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, 6-1 senior forward Allison Day contributed 16 points, eight rebounds and two steals, and Tate had 14 points, five rebounds and two steals.
Tate had just returned to the lineup from an injury and admitted she was playing through pain. Fleming, playing with a brace on one knee, left the game at least once after getting knocked to the ground by the Cardinals, but was always back on the floor minutes later.
The game saw three players foul out, including Day with 2:30 remaining in OT, and Kiefer (2:04) and senior Anna Clephane (1:39) followed for the Cardinals.
As physical as the game was with 44 fouls called and 56 free throws shot, it started hunky-dory for BGSU in the first quarter.
After Hempfling sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Falcons opened a 22-8 lead after one quarter and expanded that to 26-11 early in the second quarter.
“We just knew we needed to have a great start, so when we saw we had a great start, we knew this was going to be a great game,” Tate said.
However, the Cardinals fought their way back, closing the gap to five, 32-27, at halftime, and then kept coming at the Falcons in the second half.
The Cardinals took their first lead when 6-2 sophomore Marie Kiefer hit two free throws with 45.9 seconds left in the third quarter, and Ball State went into the final stanza on top, 46-44.
From late in the third quarter on, the game was tied 11 times with eight lead changes, and in the final seconds of regulation it appeared that Ball State had control, leading 68-67 with 7.9 seconds left.
After two timeouts were called, BGSU junior guard Nyla Hampton took it upon herself, driving to the basket and she was fouled in the process. She hit the back end of two shots, tying the game at 68 and sending it into overtime.
“It was a great basketball game,” BGSU coach Robyn Fralick said. “Literally back-and-forth that whole second half and overtime.”
Ball State did the Falcons a favor by making just 11-of-25 free throws (44%), including 1-for-10 in the first half. The Cardinals shot better from the arc, hitting on 9-of-21 shots (43%).
However, in typical fashion, BGSU got off 15 more shots because they forced 22 turnovers, including 14 steals. As a result, BGSU outscored Ball State 23-10 in points off turnovers and 16-7 on fast breaks.
BGSU also had 14 offensive rebounds to Ball State’s seven. The Falcons were 27-for-72 (38%) from the field, 5-for-16 (31%) from downtown, and 22-for-31 (71%), while Ball State was 28-for-57 (49%) from the floor.
Hampton finished with eight points, five assists, and a team-high four steals, sophomore guard Amy Velasco scored four points, and 6-2 junior forward Sophie Dziekan blocked two shots.
Kieffer went 9-for-9 from the field in leading Ball State with a double-double 22 points and 11 rebounds, but she was 3-for-6 from the charity stripe.
Ball State sophomore Ally Becki was 6-for-8 from the field, scoring 19 points with six rebounds and two steals. A 90% shooter (60-for-67) from the line coming into the game, she was 3-for-6.
Clephane had 15 points and two assists, sophomore Madelyn Bischoff had eight points and four assists, and graduate student Thelma Dis Agustsdottir had six points and six rebounds for the Cardinals.