CLEVELAND - With four minutes to play in the Mid-American Conference women's basketball championship, the tension discharged all around Bowling Green State University's bench.
The Falcons' second straight MAC tourney title in hand, their all-league players subbed out but stayed standing, jumping up and down on the sideline.
Even with their incredible streak of wins this season, for the first time the Falcons were able to wholeheartedly celebrate.
Even with an undefeated league mark, their year wouldn't have been perfect without a win yesterday.
BGSU took away any suspense early in the title game rematch against Kent State with a 64-39 victory at Quicken Loans Arena. The No. 24 Falcons improved to 28-2, the most wins by any MAC team in history.
"To have the bull's-eye on our back the entire year and to step up to each and every challenge, what an unbelievable storybook ending to a fantastic year," BGSU coach Curt Miller said.
The season's not quite over, as the Falcons earned the MAC's automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. They'll find out tomorrow night who their first-round opponent will be and where they will play.
In front of 4,519, BGSU jumped out to an early lead and restricted MAC player of the year Lindsay Shearer to just four touches and four points in the first half. The Golden Flashes (21-9) scored a season-low 13 points in the period.
"We just tried to limit her catches and take her out of it," junior Liz Honegger said.
The Falcons extended a 13-point halftime lead to 21 early in the second half before Kent State made its only run of the game to get within nine. But junior Carin Horne, the Falcons' leading scorer with 16, broke the streak with a layup, scoring seven of BGSU's next nine points.
"I don't think there was any aspect of that game that Bowling Green did not outplay us in," Kent State coach Bob Lindsay said.
After a lethargic first half in their first tourney game against Northern Illinois on Wednesday, the Falcons outscored their opponents by 63 points the rest of the way.
They allowed their opponents less and less as the tourney went on, from the Huskies' 61 points, to 46 from the University of Toledo on Friday, to a season and MAC title game-low yesterday. The 48-point average of the Falcons' opponents is the best defensive performance in the tournament's 24-year history.
"It's not our offense that won this tournament," Miller said. "It is our defense, and we need credit for the defense we played throughout the year."
MAC tournament most valuable player Ali Mann scored 14 points and had seven rebounds. Honegger scored 14 and Kate Achter added nine points, seven rebounds and six assists. Shearer finished with 18 points.
Finishing the season with a close game at Ohio and letting a big lead get away in the regular-season finale at Miami somewhat muted the pleasure of the 16-0 season for BGSU. But yesterday, the Falcons could finally unload the weight that had been building with each consecutive MAC win.
"Toward the end of the season we weren't playing great basketball, and we were all looking forward to getting back to Cleveland, where it all really matters," Achter said. "We knew once we pulled that out and got the first-round jitters out of the way, we would be OK."
"Our team is very talented, and we did a great job concentrating on what we needed to do."
In finishing what they started, the Falcons made their mark as one of the MAC's best ever.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.41.50436 -81.69046