GREEN BAY, Wis. - It took the Bowling Green State University men's basketball team all of last season to win nine games.
This year, the Falcons did it before December was over.
If they keep going at this rate, last year's 9-21 season will become a distant memory. The Falcons matched last season's win total with a 77-69 victory over Jacksonville State of the Ohio Valley Conference yesterday in the second round of the Oneida Casino Holiday Classic.
It was the fifth straight win for BGSU (9-3) and its eighth victory in its last nine games. The five-game winning streak is the Falcons' longest in more than two years.
"Last year was a tough season for us and right when it was over in March, we got to work," BGSU sophomore Nate Miller said. "Nobody hung their heads, and everybody just went to work and knew that as long as we worked hard we could have a better season."
It could get even better if the Falcons, who opened this tournament with a 58-46 win over Division II Michigan Tech on Wednesday, beat host Wisconsin-Green Bay tonight at 8:30 for the tournament title.
BGSU coach Dan Dakich made a conscious effort to get the ball inside early in the game against the Gamecocks, and it helped produce an 8-0 start, thanks to six quick points by 6-foot-11 senior center Matt Lefeld.
When the Gamecocks (3-9) switched to a zone defense, senior guard Martin Samarco took over. The Mid-American Conference's scoring leader hit his first four 3-pointers, including a pair from the left wing on consecutive possessions, and scored 12 of his game-high 19 points in the first half.
The Falcons led only 35-30 at halftime in large part because Jacksonville State shot 54.5 percent. The Falcons had been holding teams to 38.1 percent.
But they got a spark off the bench in the second half from sophomore guard Brian Moten, who didn't even play in the first half. But Moten scored 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the first seven minutes of the second half and finished with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
"To be honest with you I looked down the end of the bench with about two minutes left in the first half and said, 'Oh [expletive], I haven't played Moten,'•" Dakich said. "So I made up my mind the first time I got mad about something in the second half, he was going in. Probably the best decision I've made in a long time."
Said Moten: "That was coach's decision, and I respect everything he does. I had a little chip on my shoulder, and I just wanted to prove that I can help this team win."
Miller added 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Still, the Falcons had to grind this one out. Jacksonville State tied the game at 52-52 with 9:05 left after Gamecocks forward Harold Crow scored eight straight points. It was tied as late as the 7:00 mark and was as close as five as late as the 2:00 mark.
The Falcons pulled away thanks to a 58.3 percent shooting performance in the second half. Their defense improved slightly, holding JSU to 42.9 percent in the second half.
Will Ginn led the Gamecocks with 18 points.