The Bowling Green Falcons trailed in the second half for the first time in four Mid-American Conference games, but a comeback fueled by Alexis Rogers and Jillian Halfhill would not be denied. The Falcons defeated the Ball State Cardinals 72-61 in Muncie, Ind. on Wednesday night (Jan. 15) and, in the process, set up a stirring Saturday matinee.
|(Click link for boxscore)
|Bowling Green Falcons||28
|Ball State Cardinals||31
Bowling Green is accustomed to taking an early lead and holding onto it like a vice grip, but on Tuesday, they led for just 0:59 in the first half. Miriam Justinger missed a three on the first possession in a harbinger of Falcon frustration throughout the first 20 minutes. BGSU would miss their first eight field goal attempts and had another possession end in a turnover, all before the first media timeout. However, the Falcons forced three early turnovers and earned two trips to the free throw line, so they trailed only 6-4 with 4:01 elapsed from the clock. Justinger finally hit a three for BGSU's first field goal shortly after the media timeout, and BGSU owned a brief 7-6 lead. Ball State reclaimed the lead, though, and the Falcons would go without another field goal for an additional three minutes.
Jill Stein and Deborah Hoekstra sank threes to give BGSU their final lead of the first half at 13-12, but two free throws from Nathalie Fontaine gave the lead back to the Cardinals just 30 seconds later. The Falcons simply could not get the ball inside early against the BSU defense, and they did not make a two-point basket until 14:00 into the game, when Justinger made a jumper to cut Ball State's lead to 20-18. They made it so difficult on BGSU that they owned an astounding 18-0 edge for points in the paint during the first half. Despite those troubles, Bowling Green refused to let Ball State pull away. The Cardinals' biggest lead of the first half was just six points, and their lead was above four points only briefly. After a Fontaine layup made the score 27-21, Ball State went without a field goal for the final 3:32 of the half. During that time, Jasmine Matthews scored five points for BGSU, and the Falcons trailed just 31-28 at the intermission.
Early in the second half, Ball State answered a three by Alexis Rogers and a jumper from Justinger with a pair of free throws and a layup from Fontaine to stake a 35-33 lead with 17:53 left on the clock, but Fontaine's field goal would be the only one by a Cardinal player for the first 7;36 of the half. BGSU made them pay. Jill Stein nailed a jumper to tie the game at 35 before a Jillian Halfhill free throw gave the Falcons just their third lead of the game. One minute later, with 14:13 remaining, Stein hit a back-breaking three that gave BGSU a lead of four -- their biggest to that point in the game. Ball State would not get within one possession again.
Alexis Rogers scored five straight to push the lead to seven, and from there, it seemed as if BGSU had an answer for every Cardinal score. Fontaine sank a jumper, so Halfhill responded with two free throws. Renee Bennett hit another jumper, which was followed by a Deborah Hoekstra three. Calyn Hosea made a layup, but Justinger followed with two more free throws. Holding an eight-point lead, the Falcons forced turnovers on two straight possessions and a missed three on a third. Each was compounded by a key Ball State foul, and BGSU converted six straight free throws. Finally, Brittany Carter scored for BSU, but Stein immediately followed with another three. With 8:07 on the clock, the Falcons had a 58-43 lead.
Ball State would not concede. They followed with a 12-1 run as BGSU went scoreless on four straight possessions, and Carter's old-school three-point play got Ball State to within 59-55 with 4:59 left. They were still within four with just over four minutes left when Stein ended the run with a three. That took the last gasp of wind out of Ball State's sail, and they would not get within seven again, as they were only able to sink one field goal in the final 4:25. The Falcons ultimately claimed an 11-point win.
As poorly as Bowling Green shot in the first half (6-for-21, 28.6%), they were just the opposite in the second half. The Falcons made 12 of 23 shots after halftime, including 5-for-8 from long range. They also made critical free throws with 15 successes in 17 second-half tries. For the game, they were 27-for-33 (81.8%) from the line. Ball State did not shoot poorly; in fact, they made 20 field goals to BGSU's 18 and had a better shooting percentage overall. However, the Cardinals made only one of 14 three-point attempts (compared to 9 threes for Bowling Green), and they had seven fewer free throws. The advantage in threes and free throws is all the difference the Falcons needed.
It's rare for Bowling Green to lose the inside battle, but they did on Wednesday. After being outscored 18-0 in the paint during the first half, they were outscored 18-8 in the second half for a total deficit of 36-8. They were also outrebounded 31-29. However, they forced 21 turnovers to just 13 for Ball State, and their ability to hit longer jumpers helped neutrailize the Cardinals' inside advantage.
Justinger led the Falcons with 18 points, 12 of which came in the first half. She was just 3-for-4 from the floor but made 11 of 12 free throw attempts. Rogers and Halfhill dominated the second half for BGSU. They combined for just one point in the first half, but scored 27 in after halftime. Stein contributed eight points and seven rebounds. Starter Erica Donovan played just 15 minutes and was in early foul trouble, which led to just two points and one rebound. For Ball State, Fontaine led with 20 points and five rebounds. Carter added another five rebounds and 15 points, as well as four assists. Freshman sensation Jill Morrison was held to only four points and three rebounds in 30 minutes.
Bowling Green is now 14-2 overall and 4-0 in MAC games. Their win, combined with one by Central Michigan, sets up a very important matchup on Saturday when BGSU and CMU tangle in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The game, which begins at noon and will be televised by Time Warner, will pit the only remaining teams with undefeated records in MAC competition.
Ball State drops to 7-8 overall and 2-2 in MAC contests. They are now in a five-way tie in the MAC West behind Central Michigan. Their next game is Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. ET when they travel to Athens, Ohio for a matchup with the surprising Ohio Bobcats.
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