A basketball left the fingertips of a Kent State guard, soaring in an arc over mid-court trying to get to a teammate. The ball would never reach its destination. 

Six-foot-five Hallie Thome reached up and plucked the ball out of its course, with the sophomore center’s toes barely lifting off the ground. The play demonstrated the blistering defense that the Michigan women’s basketball team boasted all night en route to a 67-60 victory over the Golden Flashes (13-5 Mid-American, 19-12) at Crisler Center on Thursday. 

Though still reeling from being left out of the NCAA Tournament, Michigan (11-5 Big Ten, 22-9 overall) proved its dominance on the court once again in the first game of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, despite a string of four losses in its previous five games. 

“Coming into this, we knew we had to prove a point to the NCAA and make them realize they made a mistake with leaving us out,” Thome said. “Then again, we still have to realize we’re still in a tournament and we’re lucky to be in a tournament and still playing right now. So we got to push through it, and if we’re in it, we might as well try to go all the way.” 

A clear mantra for the team was playing for their seniors, guards Danielle Williams and Siera Thompson, who both will have been shut out of the NCAA Tournament when they graduate in April. The Wolverines are hungry for the WNIT title, too, with hopes to unfurl their first banner in program history at Crisler Center. 

“Even though it’s not the banner we want to hang, it’s a start in the right direction,” Thome said. “Although we want to prove a point, we have to make sure we take care of business at the end of the day.” 

The game started unsurprisingly, with three 3-point shots from junior guard Katelynn Flaherty within the first three minutes of play. The Golden Flashes tried to respond and managed only one trey and one free throw in the same time frame. 

By the end of the game, Flaherty had amassed 22 points, with Thome trailing behind with 13 and Thompson with 10. Thome needs just 11 more points to surpass 1,000 career points. Notably, Thompson, after this game, became the school record holder — in both men’s and women’s basketball — for minutes played (4,571).

Following an aggressive first period performance by Flaherty, the Wolverines pulled away further with a dominant second quarter, bringing with them a 43-22 lead into halftime. Both Flaherty and freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick hit back-to-back threes, though the most noteworthy basket came with a period-ending buzzer-beater — a mid-range jump shot off the fingertips of sophomore guard Nicole Munger. 

Flaherty’s scoring was the difference-maker in the first half, but also apparent was Flaherty’s extra emphasis on rebounds, a relatively uncharted territory for her. She tallied five total. 

“It was different,” Flaherty said. “I’m really trying to expand my game and that’s one of the things my coaches wanted me to work on. So (the basketball) kind of fell to me today, and I was more ball-conscious than I usually am.”  

Added Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico: “I was really happy about the way she went in and she mixed it up. I thought we did a great job, too, of finding her. She’s really been shooting the basketball exceptionally well in practice. … She’s really worked hard on becoming a better rebounder, and that showed tonight.” 

Though the Golden Flashes tried to overcome the deficit in the third – even almost coming within 10 points – Michigan quickly dismissed any hopes for redemption, finishing the period up 55-43. 

With six minutes to go in the final period of the game, Kent State began to upend the Wolverines’ confidence when a layup put them within eight points of Michigan’s total.

At the 3:50 mark, a jump ball call left the Golden Flashes with possession. But Kent State couldn’t capitalize, and the Wolverines extended their point total to 61. The Golden Flashes rebounded quickly and recaptured momentum to bring their deficit to just five points — the closest the game had been since the first minute. 

With 1:40 remaining, a pair of free throws by senior guard Siera Thompson and a basket the following possession by Gondrezick gave the Wolverines a nine-point advantage in the final minute of play –— a far cry from the 21-point lead it held following the half, but comfortable enough to secure the victory. 

“It was an ugly win tonight,” Flaherty said. “But, you know, it’s just good to come out with the win.” 

Regardless, Michigan pulled through in the end to notch its 23rd win of the season, breaking the program record for most wins in a season. 

“I want this group to be able to look back and say (this is something special),” Barnes Arico said. “They did a lot of great things for that to happen this year.” 

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