Ali Mann scores two of her team-leading 19 points yesterday at Gund Arena as Bowling Green defeated Eastern Michigan.
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CLEVELAND - As obstacles go, this one was gigantic.
Eastern Michigan stood between the Bowling Green women's basketball team and a berth in the MAC championship game. And the Falcons had struggled against the Eagles over the past two seasons; EMU had ended Bowling Green's season in each of the previous two years, including a loss in last year's MAC title contest.
What's more, in Eastern Michigan's four victories in that span it had limited the high-powered Falcon offense to an average of 53.8 points per game.
But Bowling Green easily cleared that hurdle yesterday, blasting the Eagles 77-57 in the semifinals of the MAC tournament at Gund Arena.
"We wanted to show them we could beat them, and prove it to ourselves, mainly," said BG's Ali Mann, who scored a team-high 19 points. "[We wanted to show] we could go out there and compete with the champions."
The victory gives Bowling Green a second straight berth in the league's championship game as the top-seeded Falcons (22-7) play second-seed Kent State today at 1 p.m. The Golden Flashes beat Marshall 73-57 in yesterday's other semifinal.
The first half between BG and the Eagles was a close, see-saw affair that included six ties and seven lead changes. Mann scored 13 in that period to keep the Falcons close, but despite the closeness Bowling Green led for only 4:14 of the half.
BG trailed 35-34 at the break when Eastern Michigan's Sarah VanMetre made a difficult 3-point shot from 30 feet away as the halftime horn sounded.
"We did not want that shot to take away from our momentum," said Falcons coach Curt Miller. "We wanted to be in the game at halftime. We did not want to play scared. We did not want to be afraid of success."
And Bowling Green wasn't. Liz Honegger scored seven of her 15 in the first four minutes of the second half. Then the Falcons scored 11 unanswered points that gave them a 51-42 lead with 15:01 to play, and Eastern Michigan never recovered.
The Falcons outscored the Eagles 43-22 in the second half.
"A lead was essential," Miller said. "In the 80 minutes we played Eastern this season, we led for about 30 seconds. A lead, for our confidence, was essential. We were always digging out of a hole. We were always trying to get over the hump.
"When we got a lead, then we got a double-figure lead, you could just see us relax. And that's when we make 3s. It's easier to shoot when you're up 12 than when you're down five or six."
Bowling Green's offense feasted on penetrating into the lane, either making close shots or finding open 3-point shooters on the perimeter. The Falcons also gathered 11 of their 17 offensive rebounds in that half, which led to 10 second-chance points.
"We wanted to penetrate because we knew [Eagles point guard] Erica Ford had three fouls on her to begin the second half," said Kate Achter, who scored 13 of her 17 points in that period. "We wanted to go after her as much as possible, whether that was the point guard penetrating then kicking [the ball out to a wing] or just penetrating [to the basket]."
Defensively the Falcons limited Eastern Michigan to just 18 shots in the second half by forcing 11 turnovers.
"They played every possession harder than we did," said Eastern Michigan's Ryan Coleman, who had a game-high 20 points. "We got outworked, and in the end you end up losing."
Eastern Michigan coach Suzy Merchant said BG's combination of offense and defense fed off one another.
"We've beaten them because we could stop them [offensively] and get our running game going," she said. "But if you can't stop them, you can't run."
It all added up to a ticket to Bowling Green's eighth MAC championship game, and an opportunity to claim the school's first tournament crown since 1994.
"I've been outspoken [in saying] maybe, on paper, [Eastern Michigan] is one of the best teams ever assembled in the MAC," Miller said. "But we are the overachievers. We are the regular-season champions.
"And paper doesn't win championships. I wanted to go out and beat that team because I truly believe that was one of the best teams ever assembled."
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