The Ball State Cardinals continued their magical run through the 2014 Mid-American Conference Women's Basketball Tournament with a stunning 73-55 victory over the top-seed Bowling Green Falcons on Friday afternoon at Cleveland, Ohio's Quicken Loans Arena. The loss was only the second in 19 conference games for the Falcons; their only previous loss was in overtime at #2 seed Central Michigan.
The Cardinals used an outstanding perimeter attack to beat the Falcons. They sank 11 3-pointers in 24 attempts, and that represented nearly half of their baskets in the game. In their first meeting with Bowling Green back in January, Ball State made only one of 14 attempts from beyond the arc in a double-digit loss.
The primary thrust in this attack came from Shelbie Justice. Justice drilled four 3-pointers in the first half and scored 16 points, and she finished the game with five and 21 total points. She wasn't the only one, though. Brittany Carter drained a trio of threes in the first half, and both Brandy Woody and Jill Morrison made shots from beyond the arc in the second half.
Ball State's efficiency in the first half from beyond the arc opened things up in the paint during the second half, and the Cardinals scored 14 inside points in the final 20 minutes. Nathalie Fontaine scored eight second half points after being held to two in the first, and Katie Murphy got to the line several times, where she made 10 free throws (nine in the second half).
In total, all five Cardinal starters scored in double figures in an impressive display of balanced scoring. The Cardinals shot over 47 percent from the floor, made the aforementioned 11 3-pointers, and shot 16-of-20 from the free throw line. While they were out-rebounded in the second half, they committed only four turnovers after halftime, and that was a big contributor to their ability to maintain their lead.
Perhaps even more impressive than their offensive effort was that of Ball State's defense. BSU seemed to have answers at every turn for what Bowling Green tried to do on their end of the court. As a result, BGSU made only a third (19-of-57) of their shots and only a quarter (8-of-32) of their 3-pointers. The shooting issues even bled over onto the free throw line, where the Falcons were just 5-of-11 in the second half.
The Cardinals focused heavily on Alexis Rogers, and they often double- (or triple-) teamed her. She managed to end the game with nine points and 10 rebounds, but she made only three of 10 shots. The Cardinal zone defense also stymied Jill Stein, who had easily one of her worst days of the season with only two points (both from the free throw line) and four rebounds.
It may seem like that defense would present opportunities for Bowling Green to score from the perimeter, and at times, they had those chances. However, they often couldn't get those shots to fall. Erica Donovan made only one of her six 3-pointers, and Jasmine Matthews and Jillian Halfhill were 2-of-9 and 4-of-11 respectively. Donovan scored 17 and Halfhill 14, but it took them each 14 shots to get those points.
Most of the first half was very competitive and featured five lead changes, but the Cardinals drilled two 3-pointers in the final few minutes of the half to take a 33-27 lead to the locker room. In the second half, BSU quickly pushed their lead to 10 points, and while BGSU kept the game in that neighborhood for most of the period, they could never get closer than seven points. At the end, the Cardinals used free throws and BGSU mistakes to finish with an 18-point win.
Ball State (18-15), the #5 seed, will advance to their fourth game in as many days when they play in tomorrow's MAC Championship game against either #2 Central Michigan or #3 Akron. The Cardinals played both teams twice during the regular season, dropping all four games, but they had CMU on the ropes twice. The title game will begin at 1:00 p.m. EST.
Bowling Green (27-4) now must nervously await their post-season fate. They are guaranteed a berth into the Women's NIT due to their regular season MAC championship but may be awarded an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. That will be determined later this weekend.