CLEVELAND – For the second time in three years, the Bowling Green State University women’s basketball team is headed to the Mid-American Conference Tournament’s championship game.
The Falcons got contributions from up and down the lineup en route to a 70-61 win over Ball State University in MAC Tournament semifinal-round action on Friday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
“Awesome win tonight for the team and program. It was just gritty,” BGSU coach Robyn Fralick said. “I felt like at the beginning we had to withstand some adversity and challenges.
“I thought our defense was excellent. Ball State is a dynamic offensive team, and I thought our second half defense was really good,” Fralick continued.
“Credit to both teams. They’ve had an excellent season. They have a real good team. We just played a week ago and we knew this was going to be a heck of a battle, and I’m just proud of our team and our effort tonight and we’re excited to keep playing.”
The Falcons, the tournament’s second seed, withstood some early foul trouble, and BGSU (27-5) overcame a nine-point second-quarter deficit to post the win and advance to Saturday’s final.
Elissa Brett, who was in foul trouble seemingly all game long, played just 10 minutes in the first three quarters, but the All-MAC First-Team selection hit three three-point field goals in the fourth quarter alone. Brett had 11 points in the fourth period and a team-high 16 in the game.
“It was a really frustrating game for her,” Fralick said. “She was in foul trouble the whole game from the first quarter, so it was huge growth for her, for us to get a win and stay poised and stay in the game.
“Those threes were huge for our team, and for her to have the right mentality to be able to go into the game and not be frustrated, but be composed, that was a critical part of the game for us.
“I wish she could have played more minutes for us, but the minutes she did play she made the most of.”
Brett added, “When you get knocked down it definitely hurts, but you have to get back up and just get going. It’s a full team effort so we just needed the team there, and knocking down those free throws were pretty big.”
It turned out to be a game of runs, and Brett said that was to be expected.
“Actually it was before the game, coach was saying how it is a game of runs, so we wanted to answer with a run and at the beginning of the second quarter, it was just like, that was what coach was saying, how they were going to go on a run and we just have to respond back to that,” Brett said.
“We have to get stops on D, and that’s all that is going to really matter because that leads to our offense.”
Joceyln Tate and Lexi Fleming scored 11 points apiece in the win. Fleming also had seven rebounds and four assists, while Tate had three steals and two blocks, including a late-game rejection that put an exclamation point on the Falcons’ win.
Allison Day scored six points in the final period and had 10 for the game. Nyla Hampton and Amy Velasco scored eight points apiece.
Hampton led all players with eight rebounds, including five offensive boards, while Velasco dished out a game-high six assists and led everyone with a plus-minus rating of plus-16 when she was on the court.
Olivia Hill had six points, including back-to-back third-quarter buckets that gave BGSU the lead for good.
Anna Clephane had 20 points for the third-seeded Cardinals (25-8), while Ally Becki had 11 and Thelma Dis Agustsdottir 10.
BGSU trailed 34-31 at halftime, and the Falcons knew they had to cut down on turnovers.
“We focused on taking care of the ball,” Fralick said. “We knew when we had just played Ball State we weren’t the best when we took care of the ball, so we just needed to stay focused.
“When we take care of the ball we can also get back in transition and play some good defense.”
Day and Brett combined for 17 of BGSU’s 20 fourth quarter points as the Falcons held on.
“Elissa and I struggled there at the beginning a little bit, but coach just kept us going, keep playing our game and eventually it will come to us,” Day said.
“So, I think we just have that in our mindset and we had some really good bench players step up.”
The Falcons will face top-seeded Toledo in Saturday’s championship. That game will begin at 11 a.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
Toledo and BGSU have split regular season games with the Falcons winning at the Stroh Center and the Rockets at Savage Arena, so this will be the rubber match, plus the winner automatically advances to the NCAA tournament.
That gives the championship game even that much more importance, and then you include the fact they are natural rivals because the schools are less than a half hour away from each other.
“That’s just awesome but we can’t get too ahead of ourselves,” Day said. “With this game, obviously, there is way more on the line.
“But what we’ve got to do what we always do. I always say we have got to be us, and that’s what we’ve got to do — we got to play our defense, play our offense, and just be us”
Brett added, “Like Alisson was saying, we’ve played Toledo, Toledo has played us, so we know each other well and I think it just comes down to who is going to execute the gameplan the best. We came here to win the MAC championship.”
What is guaranteed is that both teams will travel well, bringing a solid fan base to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“It’s pretty cool. Everybody brings the fans for both of our teams, so tomorrow is going to be pretty cool,” Day said.
“We’ll have a lot of fans on both sides so that will be pretty cool, they are traveling all the way there, so I think it is going to be a pretty good game.”