BOWLING GREEN — On Senior Night, the Bowling Green State University men’s basketball team leaned on an old standby.
Midway through the first half the Falcons switched to its long-time defensive staple, the zone defense, to try and stop a runaway Buffalo offense. It worked, as the Bulls struggled against the BG zone while the Falcons offense found a new gear to claim a 76-65 win at the Stroh Center.
According to Bowling Green coach Louis Orr, the reason for the switch was simple.
“We weren’t getting stops,” he said. “We call it ‘Buffalo action,’ and they have so many ways to attack you. There’s a lot coming at you. … We had trouble guarding them.”
The zone worked, allowing an explosive second-half performance by Jordon Crawford to carry the Falcons (13-18, 7-9 Mid-American) to the win. Crawford finished with 26 points, 20 of them coming in the second half. A’uston Calhoun had 15 points while Cam Black had a season-high 13 for BG.
Cameron Downing scored 17 points to lead Buffalo (12-19, 7-9 MAC), which also got 15 from Javon McCrea, 14 from Tony Watson and, 13 from Jarryn Skeete.
The first 12 minutes of the game seemed to set the tone for a Buffalo blowout as the Bulls made 14-of-18 shots (77.8 percent) to lead 31-25. That’s what prompted the Falcons to switch to a zone at the 7:55 mark.
“During that media timeout we got into the huddle and everybody got on [Black and fellow center Richaun Holmes],” Calhoun said. “We told them this is the biggest game of the season, and we tried to make them aware that we needed them — we couldn’t get this win without them.
“They bought into it.”
Bowling Green’s zone forced the Bulls to miss all but one of their last eight shots in the first half. It especially muzzled McCrea, who scored 10 points in the game’s first five minutes and had only one the rest of the first half.
“Cam Black makes a difference [in the middle of the zone],” Orr said. “Richaun’s presence and his ability to block shots also helps.”
“Our perimeter guys did a good job — we got 16 turnovers, we got deflections. And in the second half we also did a better job with defensive rebounding.”
After cutting the deficit to 35-32 at the half, the Falcons still trailed the Bulls 42-40 with 15:38 to play. A three-point play by Black gave BG the lead for good, sparking an 8-0 run over the next four minutes.
When Buffalo sliced the Falcons’ lead to four with 3:46 to play, Crawford exploded. He scored 12 points in the final minutes to spark a 15-8 finish.
“I thought Senior Night brought us more fire,” Crawford said. “We knew it was a big game, a must-win game.
“With it being Senior Night, and us being seniors, that fire helped us win.”
Bowling Green kept alive its hopes for a fifth seed — and a bye into the second round of the MAC Tournament. The Falcons need Ball State to lose at home to Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan to lose at home to Toledo today to finish fifth.
In Orr’s eyes that was secondary to the win on Senior Night.
“Our seniors are good guys,” Orr said. “They are guys I can have a conversation with, that I can joke with.
“Regardless what happens, they are resilient.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.