On Saturday afternoon at the Stroh Center, Bowling Green found itself playing another one of those Atlantic 10 teams that employs a high-pressure press defense. For much of the game, the pressure stymied the Falcons' offense and allowed Duquesne to maintain a slim (but nearly constant) lead, but somehow, BGSU embraced the March mantra of "Survive and Advance" and managed to defeat the Dukes, 61-54. The win sends the Falcons to the "Sweet 16" round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
Over the first 33 minutes, Duquesne never led by more than seven points, but whenever Bowling Green threatened to claim the lead, the Dukes had an answer. Generally, they combined key makes on the offensive end with defensive pressure that forced poor shots and turnovers at important moments. But when it counted the most, those trends flipped.
The Dukes took a 42-39 lead with 9:49 left in the game. For the next 8 minutes, the Falcons outscored Duquesne 14-5 to take a six-point lead (53-47) and claim control of the contest. During that stretch, Duquesne went 1/9 from the floor with three turnovers, while BGSU shot 4/7 and earned six points at the free throw stripe. The lead was never fewer than four after that point.
This was pretty simple: Bowling Green was out-rebounded 21-18 and out-shot 38.7%-33.3% in the first half and trailed 29-25 at halftime. After the break, they were better at both shooting (50%-32.3%) and rebounding (21-14) and outscored Duquesne 36-25 over the final 20 minutes. In fact, the Falcons had as many offensive rebounds (6) as Duquesne did defensive in the second half.
(Of course, it also helped that they were 16/20 from the free throw line in the second frame.)
Once again, BGSU used balanced scoring to propel their offense. Jill Stein came off the bench to pour in a game-high 16 points. She shot 6/8 from the floor and made two huge three-pointers. Jillian Halfhill contributed another 14 points, which included eight from the free throw line (on nine attempts). Alexis Rogers added nine points and seven rebounds, while Chrissy Steffen had eight and eight. Miriam Justinger struggled from the floor (1/7) but made five important free throws and also ended up with eight points.
Duquesne's Vanessa Abel made six of 14 shots to score a team-high 14 points, as the Dukes had three players score in double figures.
BGSU's victory marks the first time they have won twice in the same WNIT, but it is not their first appearance in the third round. In the 2008-09 season, the WNIT had not yet expanded to 64 teams, and the Falcons earned a first-round bye. They advanced to the third round by beating Syracuse, then fell at home to Indiana to end that sason.
This year, the Falcons will again host their third-round game, and the opponents will be the Drexel Dragons. The game will be at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 28th at the Stroh Center. Drexel will arrive on the heels of home victories over Iona and Harvard. The entire WNIT bracket can be found here.