BOWLING GREEN - If it takes pain, shock and misery to change things around, then maybe Bowling Green turned the corner in the most peculiar way yesterday.
The struggling Falcons lost their third consecutive Mid-American Conference game, losing 62-59 to Ball State in what proved to be nightmare fashion.
Bowling Green had the lead and the ball with less than 30 seconds to play when junior guard Brandon Pardon, the MAC's leading assist man, turned his head for a fraction of a second as a back-court pass came his way. The ball glanced off Pardon and into the hands of Ball State's Patrick Jackson who took it down the floor for an uncontested lay-up, the lead, and essentially the win.
Trent Jackson, Bowling Green's only senior, grasped for a silver lining.
“When we lost, it was total silence,” Jackson said. “But it was just one of those things. And I honestly believe this loss helped us out a lot. If anyone knows basketball, they know something like this brings you together. There were a lot of tears in our locker room -and this is the first game for that.”
After road losses in the past week at Toledo and Akron, the Falcons (6-9, 2-4) were looking to get things straightened out at Anderson Arena. They out-rebounded Ball State, the MAC's most dominant rebounding team, and played better defense than they had of late. Holding the ball and lead with less than 30 seconds remaining, the finish was unexpected, to say the least.
“Yeah, it's tough, because we fought so hard to put ourselves in a position to win,” Jackson said. “My teammates were in a war with me. It's awful to lose, but we came out of this a family.”
There were eight lead changes through the first 16 minutes.
Keith McLeod's 3-pointer from the top of the key with just over two minutes left in the first half gave the Falcons a 30-23 edge. After Bowling Green missed an opportunity to open it up to 10, Ball State got two baskets in the final 30 seconds to cut the lead to 30-27 at the break.
Bowling Green led throughout most of the first 10 minutes of the second half, but a couple of 3-pointers put Ball State ahead 48-47 with just under eight minutes left. There were seven lead changes down the stretch until Pardon beat the shot clock and hit a monster 3-pointer with 51 seconds left for a 59-58 BG lead.
Ball State (9-6, 4-2) then turned the ball over without taking a shot, setting up the bizarre final sequence that played out right in front of Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich.
“The pass was coming, he (Pardon) turned and looked, and it went through his hands,” Dakich said. “But the kid competes all day and makes the shot to put us up, so the fault isn't there. What are you going to do? That's the way it goes. It was a pretty good war out there.”
Bowling Green missed a 3-point attempt and a driving lay-up in the frantic final seconds after Theron Smith's free throws had given the Cardinals a three-point lead.
The Falcons, shooting over 50 percent from the field this season, hit 38 percent yesterday (22-of-58). McLeod led Bowling Green with 15 points and Jackson added 14. Bowling Green out-rebounded the Cardinals 35-33.
“Of all the games we've played this year, this is probably the hardest to take,” Dakich said. “We didn't have the game won by any stretch of the imagination, but you're up one with the ball with well under a minute to go, you pretty much feel like you have to be able to hang in there and win the game - and we didn't get it done.”
Ball State's Patrick Jackson, who was in the right place at the right time in those closing seconds, said it likely would have turned out differently earlier this season.
“A few weeks ago, if it came down to the wire we might have lost it,” Jackson said. “But now we're making the plays to win it.”
That is the same formula Bowling Green's Trent Jackson hopes his team found in a bitter defeat.