A phenomenal season filled with unanticipated accomplishments continued Friday for the Bowling Green State University women’s basketball team as the Falcons earned a spot in the Mid-American Conference tournament championship game.
The young, top-seeded Falcons were red-hot from beyond the arc as BG rolled over Buffalo 80-67 in the tournament semifinals on Friday morning at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Bowling Green knocked down 14 of 29 of its 3 pointers with more than half of the Falcons’ buckets coming from long distance as they converted at a stunning 48.3 percent clip.
Bowling Green (20-5) advances to play No. 2 seed Central Michigan, a 100-92 winner against No. 3 seed Ohio, in the MAC final on at 11 a.m. Saturday. No. 4 Buffalo bows out at 15-9.
Four Falcons scored in the double figures for a BG team that starts three freshmen, a sophomore, and junior Kadie Hempfling, an Ottawa-Glandorf graduate, who had 11 points, five assists and five rebounds.
“I’m really proud of our team-ness,” BG coach Robyn Fralick said. “Every single player on our team had an impact on tonight’s game. Every time they made a good run, we had a great response.”
Bowling Green, which was picked to 11th out of 12 teams in a preseason coaches poll, won the MAC regular-season title. And now the Falcons are returning to the conference championship game for the first time since 2011.
“We’re really excited,” said Fralick, who earned MAC coach of the year honors. “This league is amazing. There are great players, great coaches. We know we will have another tough challenge in front of us. But we’re going to continue to focus on Bowling Green and find ways to optimize what we can do.”
Bowling Green led 34-26 at halftime as sophomore guard Elissa Brett had scored a game-high 12 points with eight rebounds. Brett finished with a double-double as the guard had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Buffalo had trimmed the Falcons’ lead to four points in the early stages of the third quarter when BG’s star freshman Lexi Fleming answered with a 3 pointer from the corner. Fleming finished with 16 points.
“Our team is so excited,” Fleming said. “It was truly a team win. Everyone put forth everything they had and now we’re going to the championship. Maybe not a lot of other teams thought we were going to make it this far. I can believe it because this was our goal from day one.”
Madisen Parker (12 points) and also chipped in offensively for a BG team that never trailed over the game’s final 39 minutes and led by as many as 19 points.
The Falcons made 8 of 14 shots from behind the arc in the second half.
“A big part of that is that we took better shots,” Fralick said. “We really focused going into the game on our shot selection, our quality of shots. We got open shots instead of contested shots.”
Fleming made 4 of 9, while Parker converted on 4 of 6 shots from 3-point range.
“When you start hitting a couple, your confidence definitely goes up when we see the ball go in the hoop,” Fleming said.
The Falcons earned a ton of open looks through good ball movement around the perimeter and inside-out.
“It’s so fun to be part of a team that plays [unselfishly],” Fralick said. “When you have a team that plays together and makes the extra pass, you get better shots and you have more success.”
Brett also was primarily responsible for defending Buffalo’s leading scorer, Dyaisha Fair, who came in averaging 24.4 points per game. Fair was limited to four points (1 of 10 from the field) in the first half and finished with a quiet 20 points. Fair finished 7-of-26.
“I think Elissa Brett is one of the best defenders in our league. She just moves her feet so well,” Fralick said. “She did a great job tonight making things tough. Dyaisha Fair is an unbelievable player, an incredibly dynamic scorer. And Elissa had to work really, really hard and she did a great job keeping the ball in front of her.”
Cheyenne McEvans had a double-double for the Bulls as she finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack called BG a well-oiled machine.
“We got beat by a good team today,” Legette-Jack said. “We weren’t making shots and when you don’t make shots it changes the way you play defense. But BG is a great team.”
Fleming, the MAC freshman of the year, had injured her shoulder in the quarterfinals but was in the starting lineup. Fleming confirmed that she injured her shoulder on Wednesday.
“I’ve just been icing it a lot,” she said. “Time is just going to have to heal it and we don’t really have time now. So you just have to be tougher than it. Your adrenaline is pumping through the game. You have to be tougher than the injury.”
BG led 54-46 after three quarters as the Falcons had made 11 of 26 shots from behind the arc. Bowling Green then outscored the Bulls 15-5 to start the fourth quarter to put it away.
Bowling Green opened the final quarter with a 5-0 run as Fleming capped it with a 3 pointer to put the Falcons up 59-46.
Hempfling then hit another trey for BG, which grabbed a 62-48 lead with 8:08 remaining.
BG then seized total control as the Falcons up 67-50 — its biggest lead of the game — with 6:08 left when Parker hit BG’s 14th 3 pointer of the game.
The typically stingy BG defense forced 13 turnovers and had seven steals while holding Buffalo to 33.3 percent shooting.
Buffalo had defeated Bowling Green twice during the regular season.
“Buffalo got us twice in the season,” Fleming said. “I know they wanted to beat us a third time and we wanted to get a win some way. We just came ready to play this game. We have the best bench in the nation, no doubt about that.”
Fralick also credited Parker and Claire Glowniak (six points) for providing valuable minutes off the bench.
Hempfling drilled a 3 pointer just 31 seconds into the game to give the Falcons a quick 3-2 lead. Hempfling, who scored a game-high 15 points in the Falcons’ 63-47 victory over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, picked up right where she left off. BG went on a 4-0 run to take a 7-4 lead.
The Falcons, who have won 12 of their last 14 games, were coming off of the program’s first win in MAC tournament play in eight years.
“Our team has definitely set the standard high and we’re achieving it as we go on,” Fleming said. “We are just one big team, one big family with one big goal.”