Flashes falter to Falcons in MAC Championship

Matt Gottfried

Junior guard Sarah Burgess reacts to the 64-39 loss to Bowling Green in the MAC Tournament finalat the Quicken Loans Arena Saturday afternoon in Cleveland. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The Kent State’s women’s basketball team gave everything it had in an 18-point second-half comeback to defeat Eastern Michigan 70-56 in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals Friday.

Unfortunately, that left them with nothing to answer No. 22 nationally ranked Bowling Green in Saturday’s championship game.

The Falcons (28-2, 16-0 MAC) held the Flashes to just 13 first-half points on 5-of-25 shooting from the floor, catapulting themselves to their second-straight MAC Championship win over the Flashes (21-9, 12-4 MAC) in as many years.

The 64-39 win also marked their 19th-straight victory.

“Without stating the obvious, I think we were beaten by a team that completely outplayed us in every aspect of the game tonight,” Kent State coach Bob Lindsay said.

Senior Lindsay Shearer, the reigning MAC Player of the Year, was held to just four points on two first-half shots in the loss. Though she finished the afternoon with a game-high 18 points, a relentless Falcon defense held her to under 20 points for the first time since Feb. 4.

Shearer was also held in check on the boards, where she hauled in only two rebounds after posting in 19 boards the previous night against Eastern Michigan.

“She’s always a tough assignment,” Falcon junior forward Liz Honneger said. “We knew we had to limit her shots and take her out of it, and we did that today for the most part. We managed to hold her under 20 points.”

The Flashes shot 32 percent from the floor in the game compared to the Falcon’s 41.7 percent. They were also out-hustled on rebounds 41-23 and out-scored from the free-throw line 18-6.

As Lindsay said, there wasn’t much the Falcons didn’t do better.

Falcon forward Carin Horne led the way offensively for Bowling Green, as she scored 16 points and hauled in a game-high 9 rebounds. Honegger and MAC Tournament MVP Ali Mann reached double figures as well, as they both recorded 14 points.

As a team, the Falcons’ balanced offensive attack resulted in 12 assists and a 46 percent second-half field goal percentage.

“It wasn’t necessarily a slow start, we just never started,” Shearer said. “We never played the game with a sense of urgency. It was just like another regular season game. We just didn’t rise to the occasion today.”

In the semi-final game against Eastern Michigan, the contest began much the same, as Kent State fell victim to yet another slow start that resulted in a 16-point halftime deficit.

Against the Eagles, the Flashes sunk just eight of their 31 shots in the opening frame, while the MAC’s leading scorer in Shearer was held to six points. Eastern Michigan, meanwhile, had two players already in double figures, as senior guard Ryan Coleman drained 13 points and Sarah Vanmetre added 10.

But then, something happened at halftime.

“We had a choice at the start of the second half,” said Lindsay. “We weren’t playing Kent State basketball. We talked in the locker room whether or not we were going to finish the season like that.”

Coming out of the half, the Flashes made it quite clear early on that they weren’t ready to head home just yet.

Behind the hot shooting of Shearer and a pair of clutch 3-pointers from junior guard Sarah Burgess, Kent State slowly trimmed away at its 18-point deficit.

“We knew we were capable of playing better than we did in the first half,” Shearer said. “It was just a matter of coming out and doing it. We were down by like 16 at the half, and we knew that in the back of our minds, but it’s nothing we haven’t come back from before.”

Senior guard Malika Willoughby, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, led the way defensively as she forced a game-high seven steals en route to holding the Eagles to 19 second-half points.

“That was probably as good a half as I can remember in a long time,” Shearer said.

After scoring a MAC tournament record of 44 points in last year’s championship game against Bowling Green, Shearer once again elevated her play to an elite level at tournament time. She scored 18 second-half points against the Eagles for a total of 24 and hauled in 19 rebounds. Those two performances earned Shearer MAC tournament records for both points and rebounds in a single game.

Despite the large deficit, Lindsay said he never got the impression in the locker room that his team was out of the game.

“I knew my seniors would (be ready to start a comeback),” Lindsay said. “They’ve been talking all year about coming back here and playing in the championship game, so I knew they were ready. The underclassmen, I wasn’t really sure about because not all of them had been here before. But when your seniors take the lead on that, often the underclassmen follow suite. They did that today.”

The Eagles failed to come up with an answer to the Flashes’ torrid offensive attack, as their bench was held scoreless throughout the entire game. The Flashes on the other hand received 28 points off the bench, including eight from the MAC Sixth Man of the Year, junior La’kia Stewart. She also hauled in seven boards in her 26 minutes of action.

Burgess, who was 4-of-7 from long range, added 18 points of her own in the winning effort. In the 69-52 win over Ball State in the tournament opener, she drained 16 points.

“They were just giving me a lot of room, so I got some good looks,” Burgess said. “Coach is always talking about taking good shots, and I just found my rhythm there. Obviously Lindsay is going to draw attention, so when she draws away our defenders, it really helps us all.”

With the MAC tournament coming to a conclusion, so does Kent State’s season. Though a bid to the National Invitational Tournament could be looming, Lindsay said he doesn’t anticipate being a lock for the tournament.

“I think we are under consideration for the NIT,” Lindsay said. “I am not sure, I will not know until Monday night whether we get in or not. It is probably a 50-50 shot.”

If the team should fail to make a post-season appearance, the 64-39 loss to Bowling Green will mark the end of a career Lindsay explained as one of the best in the program’s history.

Shearer, who was named ESPN Magazine’s Academic All-American of the Year this season, ranks fourth all-time with 1,799 points and fifth in rebounds with 822. She also concluded her career ranked in the top 10 in 19 other categories.

“We’ve never had an Academic All-American of the Year at Kent State, so obviously she sets her self apart right there,” Lindsay said. “She’s a wonderful kid to be around and is a great team player. She has great offensive skills and is just an overall great player.

“She is going to be sorely missed in this program; I don’t know if we’ll ever have another player like her.”

Contact women’s basketball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected]