BOWLING GREEN -- Bowling Green State University women's basketball team seemed poised to avoid a devastating loss when Jessica Slagle sank two free throws with 5.1 seconds left.
But Virginia Commonwealth's Andrea Barbour drove the length of the floor and scored at the buzzer to give the Rams a 72-71 victory in a Women's National Invitation Tournament first-round game at the Stroh Center Thursday.
"That may be as disappointing a loss as I've had in 11 years with this program," BG coach Curt Miller said. "It is hard to look at this team, and celebrate a MAC championship and unbelievable year, because of how we feel in the locker room.
"This one stings as much as any [game] I've ever been involved in."
Barbour and teammate Courtney Hunt combined for 50 points and 28 rebounds to lead VCU to the comeback victory. Hunt finished with 30 points and 17 boards, while Barbour had 20 and 11 as the Rams improved to 18-14.
Jessica Slagle finished with 23 points to lead three in double figures for the Falcons. Jasmine Matthews scored 13 points and Chrissy Steffen 12 as BG finished the season 24-7.
Slagle's free throws with 5.1 seconds left put Bowling Green in position to avoid a loss after seeing a 69-62 lead dissolve in the final 2:23. After Hurt turned an offensive rebound into a basket with 6.3 seconds left to give the Rams a 70-69 lead, Slagle was fouled and calmly hit two free throws.
Barbour said that following Slagle's free throws her goal was to avenge her foul in those closing seconds.
"It was kind of my fault that [Slagle] got those two free throws," she admitted. "So I was going to the rim [and score] or try to get fouled."
Barbour took the inbounds pass, drove the length of the floor and scored on a play Miller said was ripe for second-guesses.
"We'll replay that [last drive] forever," Miller said. "I had a timeout left, but they didn't. Where I should be questioned is whether I should have taken a timeout there.
"I felt there was enough time, while we were shooting the free throws, to communicate that they would inbounds to Barbour, and we needed to pinch her towards the middle. But once she got to the sidelines, it was impending doom. We knew we were in trouble two dribbles into that [play]."
Was it a choke by the Falcons?
"We were one defensive stop away from wining the game, and we gave up seven offensive rebounds in the final three minutes," Miller said. "Courtney Hurt had 11 points in the last [2:42]. She and Barbour stepped up and put their team on their backs in the last three minutes.
"We were disappointed that we had two turnovers late. We want those two turnovers back, but the end was about their will to win in the final minutes."
It was a frustrating finish to a game that saw the Falcons lead nearly from the start as BG built a 17-point lead just 10 minutes into the contest and held a 34-25 lead at the break. Still Miller was frustrated that the lead could have been greater.
"We gave away points at the foul line and we missed very makeable layups," Miller said, noting that the Falcons were 2-for-8 from the line in that half. "You have to step up and make those, or they could come back and haunt you."
Still Bowling Green held a 65-55 lead with 4:32 left, only to see VCU mount the comeback that ended the Falcons' season -- and with it, ended Slagle's college career.
"Honestly, I had no pressure on myself," Slagle said.
"Coach says, 'It's the postseason. Take a big swing at it.' Knowing that, for me, this could be my last game, I played without any weight on my shoulders."
But Slagle said that just made the finish more frustrating.
"You could pat us on the back and say, 'Good game,' but I know we had more in us," Slagle said. "And that's disappointing.
"To end the season on two losses, we've never done that since I've been here. I would have liked to get a post-season win under our belts for the good of the team. And selfishly, I wanted this one.
"This one is going to hurt a little bit."