BOWLING GREEN - Louis Orr sent his Bowling Green State University basketball team home for the Christmas holiday last week, knowing one of two things could happen, depending on how the Falcons chose to spend those three days away.
They could either forget about basketball and partake in a bit too much of Aunt Dorothy's casserole and return to the court listless and out of sorts. Or they could adhere to the conditioning routine they had been following and keep their minds on the upcoming assignments and come back energized and sharp.
The latter scenario occurred, and the Falcons provided Orr with a 78-60 win over Eastern Illinois yesterday, improving their record to 6-5 on the season, but more importantly, showing their coach they kept the house in order during that three-day respite.
"I thought our guys responded with a lot of maturity coming off Christmas break," Orr said after the Falcons hit 22-of-26 from the line, outrebounded Eastern Illinois 45-32 and held the Panthers (3-8) to just four second-chance points.
"You don't want to lose your edge or your focus, and we came out ready to play. You can tell in how you execute the game plan and how you defend certain plays - our maturity and our focus was there."
Chris Knight, who came off the bench to record a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, said the Falcons were smart about how they utilized the brief holiday break.
"Coach told us that when we go home to work out and stay in shape, and I think everybody came back energetic and ready to play," Knight said.
The Falcons, who remained unbeaten at Anderson Arena this season (4-0), chugged through a slow start shooting the basketball but got a spark from their defense.
Using selective pressure, Bowling Green got a steal from Nate Miller that resulted in a fast-break basket and a 10-3 lead about five minutes into the game. The BG press forced Eastern Illinois to cough up the ball again a short time later, and Miller got a put-back basket at the end of that play for a 21-9 advantage.
"We didn't shoot as well in that first half, but our transition game was awesome," Orr said. "At one point, I think we had converted 10 of 11 times in transition in the first half. It all starts with practice, and we had two good practices when we got back."
The Falcons stretched their lead to 14 with a deep 3-pointer from the wing from Joe Jakubowski with just under eight minutes left in the half. Following a score inside by Otis Polk that added to the lead, Miller buried a triple with four minutes remaining in the half for a 37-20 Bowling Green edge. The Falcons, who had led by as many as 18 points in the first half, were up 42-24 at the break.
Bowling Green encountered foul trouble with its big men early in the second half, as Marc Larson picked up two quick ones and left with four less than two minutes into the second half, and Otis Polk got his third. But the Falcons used their depth to overcome the situation, with nine players seeing significant minutes.
"We want to take advantage of that [depth]," Knight said. "It's a real good advantage, and that's what all the good teams get out of their bench."
Leaning on that bench strength, the Falcons kept pouring it on, and about midway through the second half Erik Marschall powered his way down the baseline and pushed the lead to 59-38 with a free throw after his bucket. A triple by Darryl Clements a couple of minutes later gave BG its largest lead of the afternoon at 63-38.
The Falcons put 10 players in the scorebook, with Jakubowski adding 13 points and Brian Moten 12. The way the playing time and the points were spread around gave Orr a reason to look forward with optimism.
"I believe that our depth can be a great strength for us," he said. "Our one and only agenda has to be winning, and if we keep our chemistry together, as a team we can continue to build."
The Falcons play next at Duquesne on New Year's Eve, before facing Fordham at home Saturday.
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