Bowling Green heading to fourth straight MAC title game

CLEVELAND -- With one starter sick and another hobbled, the Bowling Green Falcons weren't at their best.

They advanced anyway, reaching their fourth straight Mid-American Conference tournament final with a 71-57 win against Eastern Michigan on Friday.

Things might get tougher for the Falcons (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today; No. 20 AP), who could be without Liz Honegger and have just eight players in uniform for the championship Saturday. Top-seeded Bowling Green (28-3) will face Ball State, which beat Northern Illinois 83-72 in the other semifinal.

"The great news is we're the underdog," Falcons coach Curt Miller said. "We haven't been the underdog for a long time."

Carin Horne, who was ill on the bench, led Bowling Green with 18 points as the Falcons struggled through another tough tourney performance.

A short time later, Honegger, a physical center who has never missed a game, got tied up and fell awkwardly on Canea Williams in the first half. She returned to score nine points, including a key 3-pointer that helped fend off the Eagles.

But Honegger has a sprained ankle and possibly a bone chip, leaving her status uncertain, Miller said.

The Falcons, who have bullied the rest of the conference for two seasons, winning 42 of 43, are looking forward to the challenge.

"This team is not going to quit," Miller said. "We're not looking for any pity."

With the win, the Falcons tied the MAC single-season record they set last season. It also was the 100th victory for their seniors, who are looking for a third trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Bowling Green was 15-0 in the MAC when it lost to Ohio on Feb. 24, snapping an 18-game winning streak, and has yet to put together a complete performance this March.

The senior-filled lineup needed a spark from sophomore Lindsey Goldsberry, who scored 11 off the bench.

"Lindsey Goldsberry started off the game hot," teammate Ali Mann said. "She kept us going those first few minutes."

Eastern Michigan (16-13), the last team to beat the Falcons in the MAC tourney in the 2004 title game, gave the Falcons trouble.

Bowling Green was 3-for-11 to start and gave up some easy baskets, leaving Miller screaming and throwing up his hands in frustration.

It took Goldsberry, who averages under four points a game, to pick the team up. She scored seven points during a 20-4 run that gave the Falcons a 26-18 lead.

Miller didn't let up. He banged on the scorer's table and stomped his foot even after his team took a double-digit lead.

Eastern Michigan made some careless turnovers and went cold from beyond the arc (4-for-27) to fall behind 35-24 at the half.

"We couldn't hit a shot," said Sarah VanMetre, who led the Eagles with 14 points and 16 rebounds.

Bowling Green extended its lead behind Horne and Mann, the MAC co-player of the year, who finished with 13 but shot only 5-for-14.

Brittany Tyson's two free throws got the Eagles within 59-53 with 5:25 left.

But Horne hit a 3-pointer with 3:04 remaining and Patrice McKinney fouled Goldsberry on the play. She hit both free throws for a five-point swing and a 64-53 lead.

Kate Achter, who scored 12 with seven rebounds and five assists, said she agreed with her coach that they're now the underdogs against a Ball State team they beat 86-76 at home in February.

The Falcons, already without two players to season-ending knee injuries and backup point guard Jasmine McCall, who left the team last week for undisclosed reasons, have one more test to pass before reaching the NCAA tournament.

"Go out there and prove it again," Achter said. "Our desire to win and our fear of losing is what drives us."