EAST LANSING, Mich. - There were four years behind them and three minutes ahead.
All the wins, all the titles, and all the records reflected in the eyes and nerves of the Bowling Green State University seniors as they faced one of the defining moments of their storied careers.
The time had come, and the Falcons were ready. It showed in their narrowed stares, their controlled emotion, and their cutting execution. That poise carried them to a thrilling and gutsy come-from-behind 70-66 victory over Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA tournament yesterday.
"Hats off to the upperclassmen in our locker room, they wanted this so bad," BGSU coach Curt Miller said. "This is the one notch in their belt they were missing."
The Falcons, the seventh seed in the Greensboro regional, snapped a six-game losing streak for BGSU in the NCAA tournament, winning for the first time in 18 years. They play No. 2 seed Vanderbilt tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2).
Ali Mann led BGSU with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Liz Honegger scored 15. Kate Achter had 14 points and nine assists in another 40-minute game.
Every time BGSU got the ball in the final three minutes at the Breslin Center, it scored. It started with Honegger's 3-pointer, her third of the half.
Honegger's first 3 had given the Falcons their first lead since 2-0. This one tied the game at 60 with 2:40 left. In between, BGSU had fallen down by 14 and trailed by four at the half.
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Tenth-seeded Oklahoma State responded by going to its rock, Rashidat Sadiq, in the post. Sadiq made three straight jumpers at one point in the second half, but Amber Flynn denied her a good look, and she missed.
The Falcons wanted to make sure they got the next one right, and they burned their last two timeouts doing it. Finally, they got the ball inside to Mann, who laid it in to put them up two with 1:53 remaining.
BGSU, which led for less than four minutes of the entire game, never again fell behind.
OSU went back to Sadiq, and she missed two jumpers. Kate Achter's usual open lane to the basket had been denied by the taller Cowgirls all game, so she found another way to score.
Achter threw the ball into Mann, who held it and then faked to the left. Achter came streaking through, Mann found her, and the Falcons went up four.
A technical foul called on OSU freshman Andrea Riley with 52 seconds left allowed BGSU to keep its four-point lead.
On its next possession, the Falcons dribbled down the shot clock and then scrambled for a good look. Mann put up a jumper with one second left on the shot clock and swished it, ensuring the Falcons' first NCAA tournament victory since 1989 and first 30-win season ever.
"We've been in situations before like that, maybe not so much this year, but in the past," Honegger said. "Us seniors, and Kate and [Lindsey] Goldsberry, this was our last chance.
"That experience, that drive, and that motivation helped us to keep our composure down the stretch."
The tone for the physical game was set early. Three minutes in, Mann was elbowed in the chest so hard she fell to the floor, writhing in pain. She took a three-minute break and didn't come out the rest of the game.
"Every play, it was an elbow, it was a forearm, it was getting dragged backwards," Mann said.
The Falcons fell down by 14 in the first 10 minutes because they weren't hitting shots or grabbing rebounds. They started inching back with four straight points by Flynn and went on a 10-0 run. BGSU missed 12 of its first 13 3-point attempts, but made 7 of 16 in the second half.
"There was never a doubt in my mind at any point in this game that we couldn't make a comeback," Mann said. "We knew it was only a matter of time before we starting making the shots that we're capable of making."
OSU held a huge rebounding advantage early, but BGSU ended the game holding a 37-31 rebounding edge. The Falcons used 12 offensive rebounds to score 19 points.
Riley led OSU (20-11) with 20 points and five assists. Taylor Hardeman added 12 and Sadiq had 10.
"[BGSU] knew what it took to get over the hump this time," OSU coach Kurt Budke said.
Contact Maureen Fulton at:
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