Heading into the Mid-American Conference championship game Saturday, the Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team knew it had a tough match up ahead. The Eagles were the first fifth seed to make it to the championship game in the history of the women’s MAC tournament. On top of that, they were playing in Cleveland — not too far from the home court of their No. 2-seeded and MAC East Champion opponents, the Bowling Green Falcons.
EMU lost the hard-hitting matchup in the MAC Championship game to Bowling Green, 51-46, in front of a hostile crowd of 2,535.
The women’s MAC Championship game is played at a neutral site, the Quicken Loans Arena. Looking around what locals affectionately call “the Q” you would have thought it was at the Falcon’s home court with all the orange in the stands.
“I would just say overall they’re just a complete team,” Schrock said of the tough BGSU matchup. “The bench is always live, they’re just a great overall team”
Battling the crowd noise, in what was accurately described by both coaches as a “very physical game” the Eagles found themselves down eight points with two minutes left in the game, thanks to a 3-pointer by Bowling Green senior Tracy Pontius.
Eagles’ forward De’ja Wills hit a 3-pointer of her own to cut the deficit back to five and bring on a push for the Eagles that saw them come within one shot of tying the game. Paige Redditt also helped with a free throw with 45 seconds left on the clock.
The Eagles held their fate in their own hands after Redditt got a crucial steal from the Falcons. Following the steal, the Eagles called a time out to set up a shot to tie the game.
The Eagles worked the ball around looking for an open shot, but the Falcons defense didn’t give the Eagles much room to do so. With 17 seconds left on the clock, Wills launched a shot from beyond the arc. The shot fell without hitting anything, and the Eagles still trailed by three with just nine seconds left when Sydney Huntley was able to foul. But nine seconds wasn’t enough, and the Eagles went on to lose.
“We were always in the game, but we could never quite take the game,” Eagles coach AnnMarie Gilbert said.
MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player and Falcon, Lauren Prochaska, put the game out of reach with a free throw to make it a two-score game with just two seconds left.
Prochaska was clutch from the free throw line, hitting 13-of-15, a good thing for the Falcons considering her struggles from the floor, going 3-of-13. Prochaska finished with a game- high 20 points.
Pontius was second for the Falcons with 13 points.
Tavelyn James led the Eagles with 19 points, 17 coming from the field, and she was 2-of-4 from the free-throw line. Kristin Thomas fouled out with 4:15 left in the game. Prior to that she dominated the boards, snatching up 14 rebounds.
Huntley provided a spark for the offense in midway through the first half, when she scored six of her eight total points.
Cassie Schrock couldn’t seem to do what she does best – going to the basket. She finished with nine points.
“She’s a great player,” said Prochaska. “Really physical, we just tried to keep her off the foul line where she could really hurt us.”
Prochaska locked Schrock down defensively. Thanks to her height advantage, wide wingspan and defensive ability, Prochaska blocked three shots, all of them against Schrock.
“I think she (Prochaska) is the best defender in the conference,” Falcons coach Curt Miller said.
Despite being out-rebounding 21-11 in the first half, BGSU was able to outscore the Eagles 14-7 on second-chance points.
The Eagles struggled down low much of the first half, eventually having to rely more on jump shots from three-point land, where they didn’t exactly succeed, shooting 21 percent.
“We have some very good three-point shooters, “Gilbert said. “We really have focused more on our up-tempo style of play, pressing, getting to the basket and just forcing teams to turn it over, but Tracy Pontius was able to hang on to the ball.”
This MAC Championship is the second consecutive, and fifth for Bowling Green in the last seven years, establishing the Falcons as the premier team in the MAC conference. In 2004, the
Eagles defeated Bowling Green to win their only MAC championship in team history.
Because of winning the MAC Tournament, the Falcons receive an automatic berth in the women’s NCAA tournament.
“They’ve been here before, our players haven’t been here before,” Gilbert said, not to excuse her team’s loss. “I think BG handled themselves with a lot of poise, which made it difficult to force a turnover when we really needed to.”
The Eagles’ post-season outlook is not yet clear, but they will be making an appearance at one of several women’s post-season tournaments.
After the post-game presentation of the MAC Tournament trophy, the All-Tournament team was announced. EMU’s Schrock and James picked up All-Tournament team honors, along with the Falcons’ Prochaska and Pontius. Melissa Goodall of Toledo also made the team.
For more photos of the game, visit our gallery.