CLEVELAND - Among the most astounding things about last week's epic game between Connecticut and Syracuse in the Big East men's tournament was the number of layups and point-blank shots missed by the Orangemen during the first five overtimes. After his resilient team found a way to win in the sixth OT, coach Jim Boeheim could laugh about it with his players.
When the same malady struck Bowling Green's women yesterday in the MAC tournament championship game, it was no laughing matter. In fact, it was a tear-jerker.
The Falcons, who shot 44 percent and averaged 75 points a game while winning 28 of 31 games, dropped their 32nd game to Ball State, 55-51, by making 6 of 27 shots during the second half. Add in seven turnovers, six of them on Cardinal steals and another on a blocked shot, and we're talking a lot of broken, empty possessions.
And a lot of broken, empty hearts.
BG made just one of its first 15 shots after holding a 31-26 halftime lead and if you're into gruesome numbers that's a .067 shooting percentage.
"Sometimes, shots just don't fall, even shots you know you can make, shots you've been making all year," said forward Niki McCoy. "You just have to shrug it off and try to make the next one."
But the Falcons would miss the next one, and the next one, and the next one too.
BG scored a mere 20 points in the second half and, when it was over, coach Curt Miller, as losing coaches are wont to do, was quick to salute the opposing defense.
It is true that the Cardinals did a nice job pressuring the perimeter and keying on 3-point threats Tracy Pontius and Lauren Prochaska. But 2-of-10 shooting from 3-point range in the second half wasn't as disastrous for the Falcons as 4-of-17 shooting from closer in much closer in many cases.
"I can remember every shot I missed," said McCoy.
Since she made half of her attempts, you can just imagine what kind of memories her teammates will have.
"You can do everything right for three months, dominate the league, win a regular-season title, but if you don't win the MAC tournament there are no guarantees," Miller said.
It is historically a one-bid league when it comes to the NCAA tournament, and even the presence of BG athletic director Greg Christopher on the NCAA women's selection committee will likely pay no dividends.
While the Falcons' body of work and RPI certainly are good enough, it may be impossible to erase yesterday's second half.
Miller said the most disappointing aspect was his team "losing composure and confidence," remarkably odd considering that the Falcons are terrific finishers and normally play with a confidence that has crushed so many league opponents over the past six years.
As badly as BG played, though, when Pontius made her team's second shot of the second half, a 3-pointer with 9:01 to play, and Chelsea Albert followed with an old-fashioned three-point play, the Falcons were back in the lead by 39-38, an indication that Ball State was no offensive juggernaut either.
Later, when McCoy cashed a three-point play after a layup off an inbounds pass and added two free throws following a defensive rebound, BG's lead was 51-48 with just 1:28 to play.
But it wasn't to be as the Falcons for the second straight season were denied a chance to cut down the nets at Quicken Loans Arena.
"Last year still stings and this year makes it worse," said Pontius, who was still wiping away tears more than 30 minutes after the game ended.
Pontius scored 60 points in three tourney games and was named the event's MVP. But that meant nothing to her. Ball State 55, BG 51 meant everything.
"We kept finding ways to win all year," Miller said. "It's heartbreaking we didn't play the way we're capable of playing the last 20 minutes."