Falcons’ defense steps up in 70-36 win over Eagles

CLEVELAND — Defense has been the name of the game for the Bowling Green State University womens basketball team all season.

That did not change Wednesday as the Falcons held Eastern Michigan to two second quarter points and rolled to a 70-36 victory in a Mid-American Conference quarterfinal tournament game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

“A great team win tonight,” BGSU coach Robyn Fralick said. ‘Playing in the MAC tournament — the whole season feels different — the atmosphere and the fans who travel.

“I thought it took the first quarter to settle in a little bit but our second quarter really, I thought we settled in on both ends of the court. It was a great defensive effort,” Fralick continued.

“Offensively, I thought we stayed with it and gave ourselves a lot of extra shots and possessions, but defensively to give up 36 points, it took a total team effort.”

Elissa Brett led the Falcons with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists.

“It took us a little while to get going in that first quarter, but it was a whole team effort tonight and everyone hit the court,” Brett said.

The problem with the opening quarter was the Falcons had eight turnovers and led by just one, 14-13, entering the second stanza. The Falcons outscored the Eagles, 21-2, in the second quarter.

“It was huge,” BGSU guard Lexi Fleming said. “After the first quarter ended (eight turnovers) that is what we talked about. We thought we had the momentumm we had the energy going but we have to stop turning the ball over.

“We had eight after the first quarter, but we ended with 14, so obviously when we take care of the ball great things happen to us,” added Fleming, who had 10 rebounds, four points and two assists.

Fleming said defensive energy is rehearsed daily, and on multiple levels.

“We do that every day in practice, so we always talk about how we have to have a defensive mentality,” Fleming said.

“We got away from it a little bit during the season, but this past week with Ball State and Toledo (final regular season games), we really locked down and we focused on that in practices,” Fleming continued.

“So, we actually figured out as a team that when we are getting stops on D, that’s when we have fun out there, that’s when our energy comes out and that’s when things get rolling for us.”

Fralick noted that even when the offense isn’t there, the defense can be, but even after holding Eastern Michigan to 36 points, the Eagles’ offense presented some issues for the Falcons.

“Defense always travels with you, whatever the gym, whatever the temperature,” Fralick said. “We held them to two points in the second quarter and that was the difference.

“I mean, we talked about a few different ways to how we would guard them, and we got back to that second quarter, we just made some adjustments, and our kids did a good job executing.

“And our defense is a lot harder when you turning it over, so the first quarter we were going 100-miles-an-hour, but maybe not with purpose. That happens. Everyone is always very excited for the games. Our defensive mentality still has to be able to continue.”

The Falcons forced 24 turnovers and outrebounded the taller Eagles, 39-31, with Brett chasing down multiple long rebounds.

“We knew coming into the game that was going to be one of the biggest pieces,” Fralick said. “They are a really tall team. They have a lot of size, and they find ways to score in the paint and they rebound the ball very well.

“Even if they miss in the paint, they get multiple shots. We knew coming in that was going to be critical if we were going to find ways to minimize easy shots and then team rebound. I thought our guards did a great job of team rebuilding, especially Elissa.”

Perhaps the biggest part of BGSU’s defense is guard Nyla Hampton, who matched Fleming with 10 points, but had three assists and two steals. The steals put over the top, setting a single season steals record (93) at BGSU.

All 15 rostered BGSU players saw time on the court, too, and 11 got into the scoring column in the 34-point win. Kadie Hampfling, a fifth-year senior who set a career record for most games played in, scored seven points and starter Allison Day had six points and four rebounds.

Sophie Dziekan scored six points, Amy Velasco and Jocylyn Tate matched numbers, both with five points, two assists, and five rebounds, Jasmine Clerkley and Payton Moore scored two points apiece, and Olivia Hill added one point.

“That was great,” Fralick said. “Some of the kids who don’t always get into the game, they show up every day and do a lot for us in practice.

“They do the scout team and are all-in and fully invested. It was fun to watch everybody cheer for them, and they played well.”

Plus, there did not appear to be any letdown by the Falcons after starters left the game.

“Basketball is a game of momentum. A lead is never that safe, so being able to keep balanced basketball through a game is important,” Fralick said.

Eastern Michigan, which was 7-11 in the MAC, sees its season end at 15-15.

The Falcons (26-5, 14-4), the tournament’s second seed, will face third-seeded Ball State in Friday’s semifinal round. That game is set to begin at approximately 12:30 p.m.

“Now, everybody left playing is playing good basketball,” Fralick said. “We played Akron a while ago so it will be interesting to see them again. I feel like we played them months ago, and Ball State, obviously, we played quite recently.

“Both a real good teams. The time for preparation is important right now. We call it championship preparation — being able to prepare on the court but doing all the recovery and the things we need to be doing to play our best.”

Fralick says it will help getting a day of rest before Friday’s MAC semifinal and hopefully Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship.

“Everybody gets that, so it is like who makes the best use of it, so we have to make sure we are using it at a championship level,” Fralick said.

This BGSU’s third straight trip without a championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, so Fleming believes this is the year that should change.

“We’ve been here a couple times and it has not ended the way we wanted it to, so coming in we are hungry for more and want a different outcome,” Fleming said.