Bowling Green State University’s Jillian Halfhill shoots over Michigan’s Val Driscoll during the second half at Bowling Green. Halfhill scored 18 points before 2,403 fans at the Stroh Center. The Falcons will play Rutgers in Bowling Green on Monday.
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BOWLING GREEN — No, it wasn’t the NCAA tournament.
But for the Bowling Green State University women’s basketball team, Thursday’s contest was the next-best thing.
The Falcons beat Michigan 63-53 at the Stroh Center in front of a loud, partisan crowd of 2,403 fans in the third round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“To be playing in the WNIT, at home, against Michigan — you can’t ask for anything better than that,” BG’s Jillian Halfhill said.
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Halfhill and the program’s two other seniors, Alexis Rogers and Jill Stein, rose to the occasion, combining for 49 points, 21 rebounds, and eight assists to push the Falcons to the win.
It seems the trio has put aside the sting of missing out on the NCAA tournament and is focused on enjoying the here and now.
“We really have gotten past that,” Stein said. “We have sucked it up and realized that sometimes it isn’t meant to be.
“So we’re just trying to make the best of what we have right now. We have a serious opportunity here, and we are going with a full head of steam toward it.”
Rogers led the way with 20 points for the Falcons (30-4), while Halfhill had 18. Stein posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards while adding five assists, and Jasmine Matthews scored 11 points.
SPT BGwomen28p Bowling Green State University player Jasmine Matthews (1) pressures University of Michigan player Siera Thompson (2) during the second half at Bowling Green State University, Thursday, March 27, 2014. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
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Nicole Elmblad scored 15 points to lead Michigan (20-14), while Cyesha Goree added 12.
But the most impressive number on the stats sheet was the 2,403 in attendance that gave the contest an electric atmosphere.
“I told the team in the huddle before the game, ‘Just take a moment to absorb this,’” BG coach Jennifer Roos said. “Look in the stands and smile a little bit. Pick people out in the crowd and take it all in.
“A lot of college programs don’t play in front of an atmosphere like this, and we are fortunate to do that.”
That atmosphere has insured the Falcons at least one more game at the Stroh Center as BG will host Rutgers, a double-overtime winner over Seton Hall, in a fourth-round WNIT contest Monday starting at 7 p.m.
Neither the Falcons nor Michigan led by more than three points in the game’s first 13 minutes. A 3-pointer by Matthews with 6:06 left broke a 19-19 tie and kick-started a 12-3 finish that gave BG a 31-22 halftime advantage.
Matthews and Rogers both made a pair of 3-pointers in that half as the Falcons were 5-for-9 (55.6 percent) from behind the arc.
“You’re going to get yelled at in this program if you don’t shoot,” Roos said. “You’re going to have to shoot the open shoot, and you’re going to have to hunt for shots.
“With the way they defended our ball screens, I thought if we made the extra pass we were going to get some open shots. And our kids were ready.”
Michigan made the first basket of the second half, but Bowling Green scored the next five points and started pulling away. The keys for the Falcons were patience on offense and hot shooting as BG made 12-of-18 field-goals (66.7 percent) in the second half.
“When we were up at halftime, we tried to slow down the pace and score at the end of the shot clock,” Halfhill said. “I think the last six minutes of the game we did that really well.”
Michigan was never able to get closer than eight points in the second half and Bowling Green led by as many as 18.
“We wanted to control tempo,” Roos said. “They score 50 percent of their points in transition.
“We sent multiple people back throughout the night. And when you shoot the ball the way we did, they have to take the ball out of bounds. And we were able to slow them down that way.”
NOTES: The Falcons became just the second team in Mid-American Conference history to post 30 wins. The other squad to reach that goal was the 2006-07 BG squad that went 31-4. … Deborah Hoekstra wore goggles to protect a badly bruised left eye that was injured in the Falcons’ win over St. Bonaventure Monday. … Erica Donovan was injured with four minutes left in the first half, but returned and played in the second half.