Falcons lose NCAA tournament dreams, fall to Spartans

Paul Barney and Paul Barney

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Falcons’ stint in the NCAA Tournament abruptly came to an end Saturday afternoon, as fifth-seeded Michigan State made sure there would be no upset in the first round, knocking off 12th-seeded BG 72-62 at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., and ending their season at 27-7.

“I can’t begin to express how proud I am of our effort,” BG coach Curt Miller said. “We’ve grown a lot through the season and we didn’t back down. We went toe-to-toe with a very talented team.”

Lauren Prochaska had a game-high 19 points and teammate Tracy Pontius added 15, as the duo combined for eight of the Falcons’ 11 3-pointers in the game.

Eight of the team’s 11 3-pointers came in the first half, including three as part of a 15-0 run from BG after falling behind 8-0 to start the game.

The Spartans would battle back, however, as they went on another 8-0 to regain the lead 16-15 at the 11:02 mark.

“I think we played a great first half. We came out ready to compete this game and we weren’t going to back down,” Prochaska said. “They took an early 8-0 lead but we weren’t going to let the game get away from us that early.”

BG would retake the lead 31-30 with 2:22 remaining off a 3-pointer from Pontius, but both teams traded baskets down the stretch to take a 36-36 score into the break.

Michigan State would pick up their defensive intensity in the second half and used its size and physicality to their advantage.

Once the Spartans broke a 36-36 tie off a 3-pointer from Aisha Jefferson, they never looked back, increasing their lead to as many as 13 points, en route to a 10-point win.

Turnovers and the inability to keep Michigan State off the offensive glass cost the Falcons in the game’s final 20 minutes.

The Spartans scored 13 points off BG’s nine second half turnovers and had an 11-4 edge on the offensive boards, which led to nine second-chance points.

“Their intensity going to the offensive glass in the second half really wore us down,” Miller said. “They’re bigger, stronger and faster. You have to play an ‘A’ game to beat that team and we didn’t quite play an ‘A.'”

Free throws ultimately hurt the Falcons in the second half as they connected on just 9-of-16 at the charity stripe.

“[Michigan State] just battled with us up and down, and I think the tire factor hit us at the end at the free-throw line,” Pontius said.

Jefferson led the way for Michigan State with 17 points to pace four Spartans in double-

figures, including Jasmine Thomas, Brittney Thomas and Lauren Aitch, who scored 11, 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Six-foot-9-inch Allyssa DeHaan finished with eight points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes of work.

The Spartans took advantage of the size mismatch and it showed, outrebounding the Falcons 42-35 and outscoring them 28-4 in the paint.

“They are a huge team and very physical,” Prochaska said. “They really tried to take advantage of that. We battled and competed as hard as we could and I think eventually, it just wore us down.”

Prochaska and Pontius combined for 34 points, while Jen Uhl finished with seven points and six rebounds.

Senior Tara Breske finished her Falcon career with seven points, while fellow senior Tamika Nurse grabbed eight rebounds, but struggled from the floor, going 0-for-3 with two points.

Miller and his staff lose a total of four seniors in Breske, Nurse, Laura Bugher and Sarah Clapper.

Breske, Bugher and Clapper were part of 113 total wins at BG, which is the second-highest total in both school and conference history.

A lot can to be said about this year’s Falcons, a season in which they won the Mid-American Conference regular-season title for the sixth consecutive year while capturing the MAC Tournament championship for the fourth time in those six seasons.