CLEVELAND - What perplexed Curt Miller as he watched Bowling Green shots bounce astray off the Quicken Loans Arena rims Sunday wasn't that nothing was going in.
As the Falcons battled Ball State for the Mid-American Conference championship without the benefit of their usual shooting touch, BG's coach saw the confidence of some of his best players sucked away. After what his team had accomplished in the regular season, that surprised him.
BG nearly overcame a poor offensive performance with strong defense and rebounding, but the Cardinals made plays in the final minute to come away with the
55-51 victory and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Falcons shot 22 percent in the second half and made just 4-of-21 3-pointers in the game.
"All we talked about was keeping our composure in the locker room before the game and I thought we lost our composure a little bit," Miller said. "It's disappointing because you think we could lean back to, there's a reason that we're 28-3, and if we keep plugging, good things will happen. There was a sense of panic with our offensive execution in the second half."
Despite an RPI hovering around 40, BG (28-4) will likely have to use the WNIT berth it earned by winning the regular-season title. The NCAA selection show is tonight.
"You can do everything right for three months and dominate the league, but if you don't win the MAC tournament there's no guarantees," Miller said.
Niki McCoy led the Falcons with 15 points and seven rebounds. Tracy Pontius added 14 and was named the most valuable player of the tournament in front of the crowd of 3,113. Along with Pontius, McCoy was also named to the all-tournament team, as were Toledo's Tanika Mays, Ball State's Emily Maggert and Buffalo's Kourtney Brown.
Ball State (25-8) won its first MAC title. The Cardinals avenged a regular-season loss to the Falcons.
"[The Falcons] are truly a great team," senior Porchia Green said. "They pushed us to the next level."
Green's layup with 26 seconds left was the difference. With the score tied at 51, the Cardinals gave the ball to the first-team All-MAC selection and let her create. She found an opening through the middle and scored.
"I'm really proud that they didn't panic, that there was a lot of poise there," Ball State coach Kelly Packard said. "I had gotten on Porchia about being a bit tentative and I think she really responded."
BG's attempt to tie it ended with a turnover in the corner. Green received an outlet pass and made a layup to give the Cardinals a two-possession lead with two seconds left.
After leading by five at halftime, the Falcons fell behind 38-33 with 10 minutes left. BG made just one of its first 15 shots in the second half, finally breaking a seven-minute scoring drought on Pontius' 3 with nine minutes to play.
"It was [a] grind," Miller said. "You felt like every possession could be the difference."
The Falcons took a three-point lead with 1:28 to play on five straight points from McCoy. But Ball State's Danielle Gratton hit a 3 from the top of the key to tie the game with 1:07 left. Lauren Prochaska, who shot just 3-of-16 from the floor, tried to answer with a runner to the left, but it was strong. That set up Green's go-ahead basket.
"They were keying on Lauren and I on the perimeter; it was hard to get shots," Pontius said through tears. "Last year still stings. Losing this year made it worse."
Contact Maureen Fulton at:
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