BOWLING GREEN - That was Cleveland fading in the distance during the first half of Bowling Green State University's game with Western Michigan last night. It reached the horizon, the light flickered, and then Cleveland almost disappeared.
But the Falcons will make the trip to Gund Arena and the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament, thanks to a frantic second-half comeback that erased a 14-point deficit and gave BG a 74-68 win over the Broncos.
“It was desperation out there,” Bowling Green junior Len Matela said. “We were down 14 points at home and felt like we were getting embarrassed. The crowd (2,543) even sensed the urgency and desperation, too, and I think they felt as mad as we did.”
The Falcons (15-13) get to move on to face MAC Eastern Division champ Kent State (20-9), the tournament's No.2 seed, at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Tickets to that game looked almost worthless to BG fans halfway through last night's game, however.
Bowling Green ran out to a nine-point lead in the game's first 14 minutes. But sloppy play, missed shots and general dysfunction reversed the Falcons' fortunes in a hurry and Western Michigan went from down 27-18 to leading 28-27 in about a two minute span.
“That was crazy, that stuff we had going on in the first half,” Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich said. “We were really immature in our play when we're up by nine - throwing the ball away, giving the ball away. It was like they were throwing all of the punches and we were just taking it.”
Western reeled off 12 straight points before the Falcons got a couple of free throws from Trent Jackson, but the Broncos completed a 19-5 run to close the half when Steve Reynolds double-clutched in a 35-footer to beat the buzzer and give them a 47-33 lead.
“What you say in the locker room after a half like that is you go nuts for about half of the time, and then you tell them what they have to do to get back in it,” Dakich said. “We appealed to their pride. And the guys made up their minds they were going to come at Western and give it all they had, win or lose.”
Western still led 50-36 more than three minutes into the second half, but the Falcons steadily picked away at the lead, moving to within 52-48 with 13:13 left. But the Broncos (7-21) did not fold. Western went back on top by nine with 10 minutes to play before the Falcons cranked up the defense and finally caught them.
“The defense definitely made the difference,” Matela said. “We knew we couldn't get it all back at once, but the big key was to keep playing defense, keep stopping them.”
Bowling Green, limiting Western to just 21 second-half points, took its first lead since just under five minutes remained in the first half when Brandon Pardon hit a 3-pointer with 5:28 to play to give the Falcons a 61-60 edge. Western hung in, however, and tied the game with 1:26 left on a free throw by Taylor Bro that made it 66-66.
Keith McLeod was fouled with 1:07 remaining and put the Falcons up two at the line. Western's Reynolds missed a 3-point attempt with 41 seconds left, and turned the ball over 10 seconds later. Forced to foul, Western sent Jackson and McLeod to the line in the final 10 seconds and they hit all four shots to give BG the win.
“The effort from our guys in the second half was phenomenal,” Dakich said. “I thought it was maturity and I thought it was toughness that made the difference, but we are fortunate we escaped.”
McLeod led the Falcons with 18 points, while Pardon and Matela had 16 each and Jackson scored 15.
Jon Powell, the former standout at Owens Community College, led Western Michigan with 19 points.