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Published: Tuesday, 2/24/2009

Falcons still have chance in MAC East

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BOWLING GREEN One year after a fifth-place finish and in just the second season of coach Louis Orr s tenure, a division championship is within Bowling Green State University s reach with four games left.

But there is more at stake than simply conquering the Mid-American Conference East division. Because of the inept West, the Falcons could conceivably finish the year with the MAC s best record and thus claim the conference s overall regular-season title.

It would be an answer to my prayers, Orr said.

BGSU (15-11, 8-4 MAC) trails Buffalo by a game for first place in the East. So do Kent State, Akron, and Miami, the Falcons next three opponents.

Ball State and Western Michigan are atop the West with 6-6 records.

Orr s team doesn t control its own destiny if Buffalo wins out it finishes first but a four-game sweep to complete the regular season could easily mean BGSU s first division crown since the 1999-2000 season.

Although Orr avoided the question when asked if the Falcons needed to win each of their last four games beginning Thursday at home against Kent State to finish first, he said the team is approaching its remaining contests as four, one-game seasons.

You re at that point where you play each game like it s the last game, Orr said.

BGSU is lucky the last game it played a 71-66 home loss in overtime to Canisius on Saturday was neither the season finale nor did it have any significance in the MAC. The Griffins entered play 10-games under .500 and became the second consecutive team with a losing record to beat the Falcons at home.

The last team to do it Eastern Michigan did hurt BGSU in the standings. Had the Falcons not fallen to the three-win Eagles on Feb. 15, they d be in first place right now.

The overriding theme after the loss to Eastern Michigan was that BGSU s players weren t focused to play against a lowly opponent. The sentiment was different following the Falcons latest defeat, but senior Nate Miller said they all need to get their minds right.

Part of it had to be a lack of focus, Miller said Saturday. We knew they were good offensive rebounders [Canisius finished with 15 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points] and we didn t follow our scouting report to a T. That s mental, that s a lack of focus.

Focus shouldn t be a problem for BGSU when the Flashes visit Anderson Arena on Thursday. Kent State handed the Falcons their worst loss of the year with a 72-48 thrashing Jan. 14.

The Flashes have won eight in a row, have the MAC East s player of the week in guard Al Fisher, and forced BGSU into a 15-point, 23-percent-shooting performance in the second half the last time the two teams played.

We re a more confident team, Orr said of his Falcons since last playing Kent State. We know who we are, we understand what we have to do to win, and we have just a better sense of our own identity. Things are more clarified now than they were then.

BGSU could be without starting forward Chris Knight (sprained knee) for the second straight game. Knight didn t practice yesterday and is listed as day to day.

Contact Joe Vardon at:jvardon@theblade.comor 419-410-5055.



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