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BOWLING GREEN — The Bowling Green State University women’s basketball team said it wasn’t a big deal that Akron was picked to win the Mid-American Conference’s East Division this year.
“The bull’s-eye was on their backs for once — normally it is on ours,” senior Jillian Halfhill said. “We are just going to play our hearts out and show everyone what we’ve got.”
Sunday the Falcons showed they are the early favorite to claim a division title for the ninth time in 10 seasons after blitzing Akron 81-65 at the Stroh Center.
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The win gives Bowling Green (13-2, 3-0 MAC) a two-game lead over every East Division team but Ohio, and it leaves the Falcons and defending MAC champ Central Michigan as the only unbeatens in the league.
Halfhill finished with 18 points to lead five players in double figures for BG.
Alexis Rogers posted 14 points, while three players — Jill Stein, Erica Donovan, and Jasmine Matthews — each had 12.
Rachel Tecca scored 22 points to lead Akron (7-7, 1-2), while Hanna Luburgh had 14 and Kacie Cassell 11 for the Zips, whose 65 points were the fewest they have scored this season.
Tecca nearly matched her season’s scoring total of 24.3 points per game, but Luburgh was well short of her 23.6-point average as Miriam Justinger and Matthews made life difficult for her.
“The game plan? It was ‘contain and contest,’ because no one has figured out how to stop them,” coach Jennifer Roos said. “They are seniors who are playing with a sense of urgency …
“We wanted to make shots difficult for them. We wanted them to take contested jumpers late in the shot clock.”
Bowling Green took command of the game early, using a 9-1 run to build a 20-10 lead with 12:11 left in the first half.
Foul trouble sent Stein, Rogers, and Donovan to the bench with 5:31 left in the first half and the Falcons in front 27-18. The Zips managed to cut the deficit to five, but a pair of free throws by Matthews and a Halfhill 3 in the final minute gave BG a 39-29 lead at the break.
“I was really proud of [our bench],” Roos said. “The minutes we got from those kids really showed their backbone and resiliency.
“Their effort in the last minutes of the first half was the turning point for me.”
Halfhill made 3-of-4 3-pointers in the first half, and Bowling Green’s 6-for-10 shooting behind the arc was a big reason for its 10-point advantage.
“When I had a look, I took it,” Halfhill said. “Everyone was shooting well. Shooting 56 percent on 3’s [for the game] was huge.
“Some times I’m hesitant to shoot it. [In this game] I just decided to take them when I had them. When I made my first one, I was feeling it, so I kept shooting.”
Akron was able to cut its deficit to eight points early in the second half, but came no closer. Two big reasons for that was Bowling Green’s 4-for-8 shooting of 3-pointers in the half and a 20-of-22 effort from the foul line.
Rogers was 6-for-6 in the second half and Halfhill was 4-for-4 as the Falcons improved to 50-3 all-time and 27-0 at home against the Zips.
“We really emphasized protecting home court, and our kids really stepped up to the plate,” Roos said.