BOWLING GREEN - Trent Jackson gets a curtain call tonight. The only senior on the Bowling Green State University men's basketball team will play his final game on the floor of Anderson Arena when the Falcons host Western Michigan at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
For both Jackson and the Falcons, this is the game that might not have happened. A few weeks ago, Bowling Green was 2-5 in the MAC and could have been headed for a first-round road game against one of the MAC's elite teams.
But a six-game winning streak brought the Falcons into position to challenge for one of the top seeds in the tournament in the final week of MAC play. They ended up with the No.7 seed after going 2-3 over their final five games of the season, but it could have been much worse.
“Things were going bad, and it would have been easy for him and the team to give up,” Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich said. “But Trent chose to be resilient, and the team was with him. At 2-5 with some tough road games coming up, some seniors would have hung it up or just gone through the motions. He cared enough to help the team come back.”
Jackson was the ideal elder statesman for this group of down-but-not-out kids. He started his college career at Ohio State, but was kicked off the team during the summer of 1997 following his freshman season after he and teammate Damon Stringer were arrested outside a Columbus club and charged with disorderly conduct.
The 6-4 Jackson turned down promises of playing time and star status elsewhere and chose to transfer to Bowling Green. He got the last seat on the bench and only the opportunity to sweat his way down to where Dakich could see him.
“He came here and it was a struggle,” Dakich said. “But Trent persevered. I was tough on him, but he kept coming back, and he worked hard to get to this point.”
Jackson played a role for the Falcons during his first two seasons, then helped the Falcons win the MAC regular-season championship last year. This season he led the MAC in steals with 57 while averaging about 11 points and four rebounds per game.
With six minutes left in Saturday's lopsided 67-51 win at home over Miami, Dakich pulled Jackson out of the game to get the Rochester, N.Y., native a spotlight ovation.
“In my time here, I've been lucky in that our seniors have really cared, and a lot of places they don't,” Dakich said. “Trent helped keep things together. He's a tough guy and he's overcome a lot of things. That was a moment he can have forever, and that's what you want for these kids.”
Jackson said he will savor the crowd's send-off, but quickly turn his focus to Western Michigan, because the Falcons must defeat the Broncos to advance to Gund Arena in Cleveland and a date in the MAC quarterfinals against No.2 seed Kent State.
“It's not over yet, but it has been a beautiful experience here,” Jackson said. “I couldn't ask God to bless me more than the people that he blessed me with here. My teammates - we've been through so much together - we might fight, but a couple of hours later we're hugging each other. That's a brother's love.
“Coach Dakich, since I've been here he's been by my side,” Jackson said. “Many times I fell, and he let me know that he was upset, but he never let go of my hand. He always gave me advice to keep me on the right road, and I thank him to death for that. He could have let me go a long time ago. Coach Dakich has given me a leadership role on the court, as well, and I know I'm a better person because of that.”
Jackson and the Falcons were 77-61 winners over the Broncos on the last day of January, but Dakich said that won't mean much tonight.
“Western is coming in here to win,” Dakich said. “When we played them before, it was close up to the end, so we're going to have to work to get them again.”