BOWLING GREEN - Most of Keith McLeod's preparation for life in the real world has taken place in the classroom. But there are those textbook experiences on the basketball court that just might come into play somewhere down the road.
The senior from Canton buried a leaning 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4.3 seconds to play in overtime last night, giving Bowling Green State University an 84-83 win over the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. After playing only four minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, McLeod never left the game once he punched back in, and finished with 16 points.
“This was a pretty hard day at the office,” McLeod said. “We knew it would probably come down to a last-second shot. I had my mind made up, it felt good, and I was pretty sure it was going in. I wanted to go for the win. I love those situations.”
McLeod's resume is cluttered with eleventh-hour heroics like that.
“I don't see how Keith got open, and I thought it was a pretty difficult shot,” Wilmington coach Jerry Wainwright said. “But obviously, big players step up and make big plays. It's not like it was the first time he's done it. I saw him make a similar 3-pointer late against Michigan.”
The Falcons had to scrape and scramble and tug just to get to an overtime with Wilmington.
The Seahawks featured one of the nation's best pure shooters in Brett Blizzard, a 6-4 junior who has started every game in his college career and is hitting 50 percent from 3-point range this season. He had scored 20 or more points four times this season, and twice in his career he had hit seven 3s in a game. Blizzard had 22 points last night.
Wilmington (4-4) had beaten Minnesota and Miami, lost by a point at Wake Forest, and had a lead at Ohio State before falling to the Buckeyes. Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich, whose team is 7-1 and off to its best start in his five seasons with the Falcons, had expected a difficult time from the Seahawks.
“I said before the game this was the best team we've played, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is,” Dakich said. “I didn't feel like we could guard them, but I thought we hung in there and showed really big heart. And nobody has a bigger heart than Keith - what a performance by that kid.”
McLeod got in foul trouble shadowing Blizzard, and was on the bench with 15:55 left in the first half. Wilmington went up 18-12 on a pair of free throws by Brandon Clifford with nine minutes left in the half, but BG came back and took a 37-35 lead at halftime.
The score was tied 10 times in the second half as Wilmington frustrated the Falcons by laying back in a zone defense and challenging BG to hit the long ball. Len Matela led BG with 18 points, but eight of those came from the free-throw line.
“The zone - it was a major hindrance,” Dakich said. “I was disappointed in our attack against it.”
The lead bounced back and forth until Blizzard's free throw with 13 seconds to play gave Wilmington an 83-81 lead. Pardon then pushed the ball up the floor against heavy pressure, penetrated into the lane, then swung a pass to McLeod just outside the top of the key. After McLeod nailed his shot, Tim Burnette's runner at the horn rolled off the rim, and McLeod got consumed by an orange wave of Anderson Arena crowd.
“I don't mind being the guy to take that last shot,” McLeod said. “If we lose - put it on me. I just put my head down for a second when it was over, and when I looked up I was surrounded by everybody from the stands. It's a great feeling.”