By ANDY WOLF
BOWLING GREEN — Miriam Justinger could not have picked a better night to set her career high with 22 points.
In a tight battle against High Point (N.C.), Justinger, a sophomore from Sylvania, poured in 15 of those points in the second half, and her effort helped Bowling Green State University knock off the Panthers 72-62 Thursday night in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at the Stroh Center.
“My teammates found me when I was open,” Justinger, who made 7 of 16 shots from the field, including 3 of 7 from 3-point territory, said. “They made some great passes and I was able to knock some down today.”
The Falcons (28-4) advance to play the winner between Charlotte and St. Bonaventure, which tips off at 7 p.m. today on the Bonnies’ home court.
The site and date of the second-round matchup will be determined after the completion of the Charlotte-St. Bonaventure game.
BGSU sputtered out of the gate and trailed 14-4 in the first eight minutes, but it quickly began working the deficit down to a few possessions.
“That was the worst start this program has had all year long,” Falcons coach Jennifer Roos said. “We won’t start like that again.”
The Falcons shot just 39 percent (12 for 31) in the first half, including 2 for 9 from beyond the 3-point arc while committing nine turnovers.
Still, BGSU carried a 33-32 lead into intermission as sophomore Erica Donovan scored the final six points of the half.
“I didn’t think we were playing well enough to have a lead,” Roos said of the first half. “It was a little bit of fool’s gold, but I made it clear at halftime what needed to do to be more effective.”
Though the Falcons started the second half slowly, Jill Stein scored four points in an 8-2 run over a minute of play to give the Falcons a 43-40 lead.
After the Panthers went on top at 45-43, the Falcons put together a 9-2 run with the help of five points from Justinger.
Justinger’s first bucket came on an open trey and she scored her next basket to follow up a bucket by High Point’s Latrice Phelps.
“We were playing with more hustle, cutting harder and getting more defensive stops,” Justinger said. “A lot of our defense led to offense and we were just executing better shots.”
Still, the Panthers wouldn’t go down without a fight, as Kaylah Keys converted a three-point play to cut BGSU’s lead to 54-52 with 4:22 remaining.
Justinger quickly responded with a bucket in transition to begin an 11-1 stretch for BGSU.
Jasmine Matthews scored seven points in that stretch, pushing the Falcons ahead 63-53 with 3:31 to play.
Keys cut the margin to 65-61 with a 3-pointer with two minutes to play. From there, the Falcons tightened up on defense and didn’t allow another field goal.
Justinger added four assists and four steals, while Alexis Rogers finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Donovan added 11 points and six rebounds, Matthews scored 10 points and Stein pulled down 12 rebounds.
Stacia Robertson led the Panthers with 15 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while Phelps and Keys each added 13 points.
HIGH POINT (62)
Robertson 4-7–15, Phelps 5-3–13, Keys 5-2–13, Richard 1-0–2, Patterson 0-0–0, Jackson 3-1-7. TOTALS: 22-55 13-18 — 62.
bowling green (72)
Donovan 4-3–11, Rogers 5-4–14, Stein 3-0–6, Matthews 4-2–10, Halfhill 0-4–4, Hoekstra 0-1–1, Konieczki 2-0–4, Justinger 7-5–22, Siefker 0-0–0. TOTALS: 14-46 22-29 — 52.
halftime: Bowling Green, 33-32.
3-Point GOALS: High Point 5-13 (Vincent 2, Puckett 2, Keys); Bowling Green 3-17 (Justinger 3).
REBOUNDS: High Point 37 (Robertson 13); Bowling Green 44 (Stein 12).
TURNOVERS: High Point 20; Bowling Green 13.