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BOWLING GREEN — Many people who came to the Stroh Center on Sunday expected to witness a blowout.
The 1,718 fans there did see a blowout — but not the one they may have expected, as the Bowling Green State University women’s basketball team demolished Central Michigan 84-59.
Offensively, the Falcons finished with a season-high in points, while the BG defense held the Chippewas more than 20 points under their season scoring average. As a result, Bowling Green improved to 14-7 overall and 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference while pinning the first league loss of the season on CMU (13-8, 7-1).
The key to the victory, according to the Falcons, was the team’s response to a loss on Thursday at Akron.
“I can’t emphasize how good the two days of practice before this game [were],” BG coach Jennifer Roos said. “If we didn’t have those two days of practice, the result would have been completely different.
“Practice was very intense. Practice was very physical, and it was very competitive. … We were able to get the most out of each other.”
Bailey Cairnduff, who hit four 3-pointers to finish with 14 points, agreed. “In practice, we definitely had a different mind-set after losing to Akron. We had a different focus, we had a different intensity.
“We had lost, and we didn’t want to feel that again.”
Chrissy Steffen led Bowling Green with 19 points, while Jillian Halfhill tied Cairnduff with 14 and Alexis Rogers added 13. Brandie Baker and Crystal Bradford each had 14 points to lead CMU.
The Falcons started out fast offensively as Steffen scored 12 points in the first 13 minutes. BG built a 27-18 lead with 7:55 left in the first half.
“She carried us early on,” Roos said of Steffen. “We had the nine-point lead because of her outside shooting.
“That’s a kid who wants to go out with a bang. The past two games she has really turned it on and has been a spark.”
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But from that point the Falcons managed just two baskets and seven points the rest of the first period as the Chippewas cut the halftime deficit to 34-30.
“Central Michigan went to a nontraditional lineup and were much bigger than us at the guard positions,” Roos said. “We couldn’t turn the corner or draw fouls when they switched, and we struggled to get any penetration.
“We made an adjustment in the second half to slip more screens, and we used a different [offensive] series where we set fewer ball screens, and that seemed to help. And when they switched to a zone, we were able to connect on a lot of shots.”
The Falcons connected on four of their first five shots of the second half and six of their first nine to lead 49-35 with 13:53 on the clock. Then BG started raining down 3’s on the Chippewas as Miriam Justinger’s 3-pointer at 10:43 started a run of five consecutive made 3’s by BG in a three-minute span.
“[Good shooting] is contagious like H1N1,” Roos said. “They start feeling it, and the momentum grows and grows and grows.”
Cairnduff, who grew up just 40 minutes away from the Central Michigan campus, and Katrina Salinas each had a pair of 3’s in that volley.
“Our offense was really flowing,” Cairnduff said. “Everybody was hitting shots, and our posts are so good at finding the open player, especially when they are doubled.”
While Bowling Green was busy scoring a season-best 50 points in the second half, the defense was limiting CMU to just 29, its lowest second-half total since a loss at Notre Dame in early December.
“We were stopping them in transition, and we were able to stop dribble penetration,” Steffen said. “We forced them to score on tough shots they had to force.
“From there we didn’t let them breathe; we were pushing the score and not letting them come back.”
Bowling Green led by as many as 28 points against a team that had won its first seven MAC games by an average of 24.7 points per game.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.