BOWLING GREEN - There are no one-man shows in the Mid-American Conference. On a lot of nights, Keith McLeod makes a pretty good run at it, but the supporting cast for Bowling Green State University often has the outcome of the game in its hands.
Last night against Ohio, McLeod was solid if not spectacular at both ends of the floor, and the rest of the Falcons complemented his every move. The result was an 80-64 Bowling Green win that pulled the Falcons (17-5) even with Ohio (12-7) for second place in the MAC's East Division at 7-4.
McLeod, the MAC's leading scorer at 23.9 points per game, scored 20 and essentially shut down Ohio's Steve Esterkamp, who had 29 points Saturday in a win over Marshall. McLeod's help came from a whole cast of characters.
Len Matela scored 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting and did major defensive work on Ohio's Brandon Hunter, who was held eight points below his 18-point average. BG's Brandon Pardon hit all six of his free throws and handed out 13 assists, one shy of his career-best. Josh Almanson led a six-man contingent off the bench that contributed 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Almanson scored 10 by hitting all five of his shots and had five rebounds, and helped out defending Hunter.
“I thought Josh, when he hit his first shot, spread the defense a little bit, and availed us to some drives,” Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich said. “I also thought Josh was pretty aggressive - and that's the way Josh has to play. He has to play like a tiger every night.”
Ohio got on top early, leading 18-14 before Cory Ryan drilled a 3-pointer from the wing about midway through the first half. A 3-pointer from Kris Wilson less than a minute later gave BG the lead, and the Falcons built it to 26-19 by the eight-minute mark after a baseline jumper from Matela. The Falcons put together that run with McLeod taking a rare rest on the bench.
“This is our third game in five days and I thought we had great energy and enthusiasm,” Dakich said. “I made up my mind I was going to get Keith at least five minutes of rest, and our guys played well when he was out.”
Ohio got back within three and the Bobcats tried a full-court press at the end of the half, but BG got the ball deep to Matela for a dunk and a 35-31 lead at the break.
The Bobcats tied it five minutes into the second half, but Bowling Green rattled off nine straight points to take a 50-41 lead with 12 minutes to play. Ohio got no closer than seven the rest of the way.
“They broke it open in the second half by dominating the inside,” Ohio coach Tim O'Shea said. “Matela had a great game, and we really had no answer for him tonight.”
The two teams share a common pursuit of MAC East leader Kent State (10-1), and a secondary interest in finishing with a record that lands them one of the three first-round byes in the MAC Tournament. The two divisional champions and the team with the next-best record earn byes.
“We're trying to claw back up and compete for the championship, so all we can do by winning is keep moving up,” Matela said. “Defense was a key. Hunter's all-league, all-world, super-huge. And Esterkamp's coming off a game where he scored 29. I think we played them pretty tough, pretty physical.”
McLeod limited Esterkamp to six points, and three of those came when Esterkamp got a wide open 3-pointer off the opening tip.
“I think Keith's defense is incredibly overlooked,” Dakich said. “I watch everybody in our league and there's a lot of good defensive players, and I don't think any are better than him.”