Sheer domination not enough

Joe Murphy

Shearer’s 44 points could not save Flashes championship loss

Lindsay Shearer, Malika Willoughby, La’Kia Stewart and Tiffany Kelly show their disappointment after the Flashes’ 81-75 loss to Bowling Green for the MAC Championship. Shearer, Willoughby and Stewart scored 61 of the Flashes’ 75 points.

Credit: Joe Murphy

CLEVELAND — Lindsay Shearer has wanted an invite to the Big Dance since she came to Kent State.

Saturday, the junior forward did everything she could to ensure she would get the invitation, but a trip to the NCAA Tournament still isn’t coming.

Despite a career-high and Mid-American Conference Tournament-record 44 points from Shearer, the Flashes (21-9) dropped a heartbreaking title game to No. 1-seeded Bowling Green, 81-75. The win for the Falcons (23-7) gives the team its first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1994. Kent State’s loss snapped their nine-game winning streak and leaves the team with only a possible WNIT game remaining in its season.

In the two previous games in the tournament, the Flashes ended the first half trailing and came out strong in the second. So when the Flashes finished the first 20 minutes down 32-26 to Bowling Green, it almost seemed routine.

Against Ohio and Marshall, the response was an emphatic play to win. The league’s toughest defense played like it, allowing only 49 second-half points in the two games combined.

In the second half Saturday, Kent State matched that, giving up 49 points to Bowling Green.

“We played a very similar game to the last couple,” Kent State coach Bob Lindsay said. “We were very slow starting in the first half. Our execution, at times, was not very good. Defensively, we had a difficult time defending dribble penetration. They had an exceptionally good shooting day. Part of that has to do with what we were not doing defensively, and part of it had to do with the fact that they have good players offensively, and those kids make shots.”

Bowling Green shot the lights out from the floor on Saturday, finishing at 57 percent from behind the 3-point line and 51 percent from the floor for the game. The Falcons dramatically improved over the team that scored only 53 total points and shot 3-for-25 from behind the arc at the M.A.C. Center Jan. 26. Liz Honegger, who was 0-for-10 from the floor in the last matchup, made 5-of-7 3-pointers Saturday and finished the game with 20 points.

Time and time again, the two teams traded shots in the second half. Unfortunately for the Flashes, they were doing it from behind. Bowling Green always had an answer.

With 3:15 left in the game, senior guard Melissa DeGrate fired off a 3 that would have cut the Falcons lead to one. The shot missed, and Honegger responded with a 3 to bring Bowling Green’s lead back to seven at 72-65.

DeGrate, who sparked the Flashes throughout the tournament with her second-half shooting, failed to consistently find the net Saturday. DeGrate, the lone senior on the team, managed only 14 points and converted just 2-of-9 3-point attempts.

“I just couldn’t make the shots I needed to,” DeGrate said. “I also needed to not take some of the shots I took. That’s basically it.”

DeGrate and Shearer were two of only four Flashes to make it into the scoring books. Sophomore guard La’kia Stewart scored all nine of Kent State’s points off the bench. Junior point guard Malika Willoughby also added eight.

With players such as DeGrate struggling against Bowling Green’s zone defense, the plan was to get the ball inside on the low block to Shearer. The Flashes were successful as No. 24 touched the ball on nearly every possession and put up 23 shots and made 17 of them. The junior forward backed down Honegger and fought through several double- and triple-teams.

Shearer used 14 straight points late in the game to keep the Flashes within striking distance. After a Honegger 3 gave the Falcons a 72-65 lead, Shearer responded with a 3 of her own, cutting the lead back to four. But that was as close as the Flashes would get the rest of the game as Bowling Green was relentless from outside.

Shearer received praises from both coach Lindsay and Honegger after the game, but a dejected Shearer said she would trade 44 points and 11 rebounds for a MAC Championship.

“Once you get in a flow, it’s hard to stop somebody,” she said. “A lot of players would relate to that. But I’d rather win any day than have a career game.

“Every team’s goal is to get to the championship game and win it. We all wanted it so much, but it only goes to one team. We gave it all we had, but we just came up short.”

Contact women’s basketball reporter Joe Murphy at [email protected].