AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Bowling Green State University rubbed shoulders last night with the No.1 team in the country.
And, for one half, BG played right with Michigan State before the defending national champion asserted itself to post a 85-69 victory before a crowd of 22,076 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Michigan State's Jason Richardson scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help the Spartans hold off an unyielding Falcon team that trailed just 40-35 at intermission. The Spartans' acrobatic 6-foot-6 sophomore guard scored 13 points in the second half, including a crowd-pleasing, 360-degree dunk that gave Michigan State a 74-57 lead with 5:27 remaining.
The Falcons (4-5), who were outrebounded 41-18, trailed by as many as 21 points late in the game. Nevertheless, BG coach Dan Dakich walked away pleased with how the Falcons didn't back down against the top-rated team in the country.
“I'm proud of our guys,” Dakich said. “I thought they really competed.”
Falcons point guard Brandon Pardon scored a team-high 19 points, including 10 in the first half on 4-of-5 shooting. Trent Jackson and Len Matela added 16 and 10 points, respectively.
Pardon said the Falcons were never intimidated, they just ran out of gas in the end against a deeper and more talented team.
“We came in with the right mindset,” Pardon said. “I thought we competed as well as we could.
“I didn't sleep last night. This is the kind of game you grow up dreaming about playing in against the No. 1 team in the country.”
Richardson said BG posed a greater challenge than expected.
“They fought until the very end,” Richardson said of the Falcons.
Richardson's backcourt mate, Charlie Bell, pumped in 13 of his 18 points in the second half to help the Spartans improve to 10-0 for only the second time in school history.
But the Spartans' backcourt wasn't entirely responsible for the win, which is the 21st in a row dating to last season. A dominant presence around the rim proved just as significant. Fifteen of the Spartans' rebounds were offensive boards.
Michigan State's David Thomas grabbed five of his game-high nine rebounds on the offensive end to go along with 12 points.
Matela grabbed a team-high five boards for the Falcons. Kevin Netter, BG's 6-10 freshman center, failed to get a rebound or score a point before fouling out late in the game.
“I thought the difference in the game came down to the backboards,” Dakich said.
But Dakich wasn't discouraged about getting outrebounded by a bigger and stronger team that takes pride in rebounding. A few days earlier the Spartans ripped down 60 boards in a 72-57 win over Seton Hall.
“Some teams are big; these guys are big and good,” Dakich said.
The Falcons played perhaps their best half of the season in trailing just 40-35 at the break.
Actually, the Falcons weren't really ready to go into the locker room for the intermission.
“I really didn't want the half to end,” Dakich said.
The Falcons shot 56 percent (14- of 25) from the field in the first half, but looks at the basket didn't come as easy in the second.
“I thought we gave everything we had, but by the end, they just wore us down,” Matela said.
The Spartans shot only 41 percent in the first half, but they thrived on second-chance opportunities by outrebounding BG 19-9.