BGSU women’s basketball came up just short of a MAC Championship Saturday afternoon, losing 77-72 to Central Michigan.
For a young team that was so close to doing something no one thought they would come close to doing, the loss hurt.
“We’re heartbroken, we were so close. Going from MAC to almost first, we were first. Being able to play in the game today is just an amazing opportunity for our team and a great experience. We’ve just got to learn from it. Yeah we were close and yeah this feeling is terrible, I don’t want anyone to experience it but we’re gonna learn from it,” BGSU junior Kadie Hempfling said.
The game started out well again for the Falcons as they got out and ran, finding lanes to the hoop, as well as some open threes. After the first quarter, the Falcons led 16-11.
The Falcons continued to push their lead in the second quarter, as a Hempfling three followed by an Elissa Brett layup and a Hempfling layup pushed the Falcons lead all the way to 12 with 6:18 left in the second quarter.
But the Chippewas, an experienced team that has been here before, wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
After falling down by 12, Molly Davis immediately came down and hit a three, pushing the lead to single digits again. Davis, a sophomore, who hadn’t been in the MAC tournament yet, wasn’t afraid of the big stage finishing with 23 in the game.
That three from Davis sparked an 18-7 run to end the quarter and tied the game going to halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the run continued for Central Michigan as they stretched the game out to their own 12-point lead combining with the previous run to go on a 37-14 run through the middle of the game.
Most of the damage was done by 2019-2020 MAC Player of the Year Micaela Kelly who had just four at halftime. In the first four minutes of the second half, she scored 15 points. She ended with a game high 29.
But a young BGSU team, in a program that hadn’t won a MAC tournament game since 2013, didn’t want to go down that easy. Like Central MIchigan in the second quarter, the Falcons fought back.
Starting with a three from senior Madisen Parker, then followed by a nice hook shot from senior Angela Perry, the veterans that had played their role on the bench the entire season, helped spark a comeback for the Falcons.
“Our seniors are the backbone of our program. To be an upperclassman and embrace a new role, to embrace young kids, support them, encourage them, challenge them. Those take really special kids. In a world of instant gratification those kids are the farthest thing from that,” BGSU Head Coach Robyn Fralick said.
The underclassman played their part in the run too, as a Lexi Flemming layup and three, as well as a Brett layup cut the Central Michigan lead to one. Then a Nyla Hampton driving layup put the Falcons back in front, capping off a 13-0 run.
After this, there were no runs to be had, as both teams played close until the end, with CMU holding a 61-60 lead at the end of three.
Kelly came into the fourth quarter on a mission, getting a runner to go to start things off. The Falcons and Chippewas traded baskets for a few minutes, then the BGSU side went dry after holding a two-point lead with six minutes left.
The Falcons didn’t score for six minutes down the stretch of the fourth quarter and the drought allowed Central Michigan to take command, with the dagger coming from Davis on a double clutch three that pushed the CMU lead to eight with 55 seconds left.
That three by Davis marked the end of a game that was up and down for both teams, a game summed up in a few words by Fralick after the game.
“It’s just heartbreaking, we had a lead, we lost a lead, we clawed back into a game, and we just sort of didn’t have enough at the end,” she said.
For the Falcons, they were led by Brett again, who had 18 points. Three others scored in double figures too as Fleming had 13, while Hampton and Hempfling each had 11. Hempfling also added six assists.
The loss marks the end of a magical MAC run for the Falcons, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of their season.
The MAC, which saw two teams make the NCAA Tournament in both 2018 and 2019, will be looking to do the same in 2021, with Bowling Green being the beneficiary of an at-large bid.
Central Michigan Head Coach Heather Oesterle knows how good the conference is, and believes the Falcons deserve a shot at the big dance.
"I think they have every reason to try and make a push to get in ... that team is very good. They have all the weapons and the defense. I hope the NCAA tournament committee gives them a look,” she said.
No matter the fate of the Falcons at the hands of the NCAA committee, the Falcons will more than likely be chosen to play in the 32-team women’s NIT field.
The NCAA tournament field will be announced on ESPN on Monday at 7 p.m. EST. The NIT field will be announced the next day.
Fralick knows that this team has a bright future despite the loss, but she also knows that this team has more left in the tank.
“I love our team that is returning, I love our kids that are coming. Our new kids that are going to be joining our team next year too. But I’m not there yet, I’m not in the space of thinking about next year’s team because I’m excited because I know that this team still gets more basketball,” she said.