Jill Stein, right, celebrates the Falcons' win over Western Michigan after she helped force a key turnover in the final seconds.
THE (CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER/THOMAS ONDREY
CLEVELAND — Miriam Justinger summed it up perfectly.
“It was déjà vu from Kalamazoo,” she said of the Bowling Green State University women’s basketball team’s Mid-American Conference tournament game Wednesday against Western Michigan.
“But I liked this outcome better.”
That’s because the first meeting between the two teams in Kalamazoo, Mich., saw the Broncos score with 4.6 seconds to play to beat the Falcons by a point. On Wednesday, Bowling Green forced a turnover with 4.3 seconds to play and narrowly escaped with a 55-53 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
The fifth-seeded Falcons nearly frittered away an 18-point halftime advantage, yet hung on to advance to a third-round game against Central Michigan, the fourth seed, today at noon.
Alexis Rogers and Jill Stein each had 11 points to lead Bowling Green (22-9) in a victory that was surprisingly close after the Falcons dominated the first half.
“I totally feel like this was a victory for us, but it also was a little bit of a wake-up call,” Stein said. “It’s tournament time, and everyone is playing like they know they could be done [any time].”
Mariquisha Harris, Miracle Woods, and Aurielle Anderson each scored 12 for Western Michigan (11-20), which also got 10 from Corie Buchanan.
The first half was all Bowling Green, which used a 7-0 run to take a 11-6 lead early in the first half, then finished the period on a 13-3 burst to lead 37-19 at the break.
“We came out on fire,” Falcons coach Jennifer Roos said. “I knew we would come out that way, because we’ve been itching to come back on the court.
“Any time you have [upperclassmen] like Danielle Havel and Chrissy Steffen and Alexis Rogers and Jillian Halfhill, they remember getting here last year and losing. They wanted to come out strong and prove to everybody that we wanted this game.”
Western Michigan didn’t panic, though, in part because of their comeback win over the Falcons in mid-February.
“We definitely knew it was possible [to come back and beat them] because we had done it on our floor,” Harris said. “We dug ourselves a hole, but we knew we could come back.”
After a strong offensive first half in which the Falcons shot 46.7 percent from the field and turned the ball over just three times, things fell apart in the second. BG missed its first five shots, didn’t score until the 14:42 mark of the period on a Rogers layup, then didn’t get another point until Stein hit a pair of free throws with 8:57 remaining.
By that point, the Falcons had missed all but one of their first 14 shots while turning the ball over six times, and the lead had dwindled to single digits.
“I just lost my cool in a couple of timeouts,” Roos admitted. “I told them we were getting [good] shots — we needed to step up and score.
“I was more disappointed with the turnovers.”
With BG’s lead cut to 43-39 and 6:40 still to play, Justinger scored two baskets then made two free throws on a third possession to restore a 10-point advantage with 5:31 left.
But Western Michigan made another run, and a basket by the Broncos’ Aurielle Anderson with 45 seconds left made it 54-53 Falcons.
Bowling Green’s next possession ended with a shot-clock violation — the Falcons’ second in as many possessions — and WMU had a chance for another last-second basket to claim a win.
But on a high-ball screen, Stein jumped out and helped Halfhill double-team Anderson, who mishandled the ball for a double-dribble call with 4.3 seconds left.
“At their place, in the last possession we played solid defense, but they were the aggressors — they came down and got a good shot against us,” Stein said. “We needed to be the aggressor, even though we were on defense.
“As [Anderson] came off the ball screen, I jumped out and trapped it. She was taken off-guard and got off balance and double-dribbled.”
Steffen was fouled and made the first of two free throws. Western Michigan grabbed the missed second shot, but mishandled the ball and never got off a shot before time expired to allow the Falcons to escape with the win.
“As happy as I was with the way we played in the first half, I was just as happy with the resiliency we showed at the end,” Roos said. “It doesn’t matter if you win by one or by 41 like we did in our first game, it’s win and move on.”
NOTES: Western Michigan’s Jessica Jessing, a teammate of Justinger at Northview High School last season, did not score but did grab three rebounds in 10 minutes for the Broncos. … Buffalo upset Miami 82-70. The seventh-seeded Bulls will play third-seeded Akron in today’s second third-round game.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.