Coaches say it all the time: free throws can win and lose games.
That motto was as true Thursday night as ever.
Bowling Green State (9-1) hit all 15 of its free throws, including eight in the final 30 seconds, while the Lady Toppers (2-6) went 15-of-21 from the line in a 72-68 loss at Diddle Arena.
“We’re a very good free throw shooting team,” Bowling Green State coach Curt Miller said. “We thought if we could get to the line toward the end that we’d have a good chance to win it.”
It didn’t hurt that BGSU had the most consistent free-throw shooter in NCAA history on their side. BGSU senior guard Lauren Prochaska hit six free throws in Thursday’s game to set the NCAA record for most consecutive free throws made – 67.
The Lady Toppers missed four free throws in the second half.
Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said the loss was “frustrating,” and rightfully so.
After coming back from an 11-point deficit to tie it in the first half, WKU watched BGSU go back up by 10 in the second half. But the Lady Toppers were able to come back again and eventually took a three-point lead with 5:22 left to play.
From there, it was back and forth the rest of the way.
Up 62-61 with 3:37 left to play, the Lady Toppers forced a shot clock violation that had the Diddle Arena crowd erupting. But BGSU senior forward Jen Uhl hit a 3-pointer in response to give the Falcons a two-point lead.
Junior forward Keisha Mosley tied the game again on the other end, but BGSU capitalized on a turnover by senior forward Arnika Brown to go up 66-64 with 1:41 left.
Mosley was called for a charge on the other end, and BGSU was able to seal a win with free throws in the final minute.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do to put ourselves in a position to win,” Cowles said. “In the first half I felt like our defense was a step behind. In the second half, probably around the 12-minute mark, our defense really buckled down and we started getting stops and not allowing them to get to the glass.
“But we made some poor decisions when we were tied or ahead. We could have taken advantage of some situations, but we just made some poor decisions.”
Senior guard Amy McNear said it seemed like the players rushed down the stretch and were almost in a panic mode trying to hold on to the lead.
“When we ran our offense. We executed really well,” she said. “But we started rushing ourselves and making turnovers that we shouldn’t have made. We just had some mental mistakes toward the end.”
Cowles said she wasn’t sure why the Lady Toppers rushed toward the end because it was when they were in their offensive set that they made their comeback and eventually took the lead.
Junior forward LaTeira Owens said that’s something WKU will have to figure out how to combat soon.
“We’re going to be in tight games at some point, so we just have to set up our plays and make the defense work so we can score,” she said.
The Lady Toppers’ offensive balance continued with three scorers in double figures – led by Owens’ 18 points and seven rebounds. And despite costly turnovers late in the game, the Lady Toppers only turned it over 13 times as a team, which is a season low for them.
While those are positives, Cowles said she’s more focused with the bigger picture – one that’s immediate future doesn’t look so bright.
“So far, this season has been very untypical of us,” Cowles said. “I would lie if I told you frustration was not being felt. I don’t have the answer right now. We’ll continue to talk about it, continue to watch film, and just try to get that answer.”
The Lady Toppers will have three days to figure it out before their next game at 2 p.m. Sunday in Diddle Arena against Florida A&M.