BOWLING GREEN – As free throws go, calling Antwon Lillard’s potential game-tying free throw “ugly” would be charitable.
“I honestly don’t know how it went in,” Lillard admitted afterwards. “But I got a lucky roll – a shooter’s roll.”
Lillard’s charity toss, which came with the Bowling Green State University men’s basketball team trailing by a single point and just 4.7 seconds left on the clock, seemed to plop on the back flange, then roll into the basket.
Lillard then made the two free throws that followed and the Falcons were rewarded with an 83-81 win over Western Michigan in the Mid-American Conference contest played at the Stroh Center Tuesday.
It marked the third straight home game that Bowling Green overcame a double-digit deficit in the first half. More importantly, it resulted in the Falcons’ fourth win in five games and improved their season’s record to 16-10 overall and 7-6 in the MAC.
PHOTO GALLERY: BGSU defeats Western Michigan
Justin Turner led BG with 29 points, one short of his career best, while Lillard had 18 and Springfield High School graduate Demajeo Wiggins contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Western Michigan (15-11, 7-6 MAC) had four players score in double figures, led by Thomas Wilder’s 18 points, five assists and six steals. Josh Davis scored 15 points, while Brandon Johnson and Seth Dugan each added 11.
The Broncos seemed to spend the entire first half making shots, connecting on 54.5 percent of their field-goal attempts. The Falcons were able to match them for a time, with the lead hovering around five points for the game’s first 13 minutes.
But when BG went into a shooting funk late in the period, WMU took advantage and went on a 14-3 run over a five-minute span during with it made 5-of-8 shots while the Falcons connected on just 1-of-6.
“We’ve gotten into the habit of letting the other team punch us in the mouth before we punch back,” Lillard admitted.
That late run allowed the Broncos to take a 45-30 lead with 1:14 to go in the half, which BG scoring the final four points of the period to trail 45-34.
“I thought we lacked intensity,” Falcons coach Michael Huger said. “I don’t know why we start that way – I wish I knew.
“I wish I could change it so we could get off to a better start.”
In BG’s two previous home games, the Falcons allowed Kent State and Eastern Michigan to build 19-point first-half leads. But while Western Michigan’s biggest lead was “only” 15, this contest was worse because the Broncos scored 45 point, 14 more than KSU scored and seven more than EMU.
“We didn’t come out with enough energy,” Turner said. “We have to come out better on the defensive end.
“We have to come out and attack from the start instead of being lackadaisical.”
After the two teams exchanged baskets to start the second half, the Falcons exploded. Lillard made an and-one basket, and Turner scored seven straight points – including a 3-pointer that cut BG’s deficit to 47-46 and forced a WMU timeout with 17:13 left.
“We didn’t change anything: We didn’t change any matchups, we didn’t change any strategies, anything,” Huger said of the fast start.
But the Falcons never could take the lead, and Western Michigan reestablished a 10-point advantage when a layup by Wilder with 6:22 left capped a 7-0 run that pushed BG down 75-65.
“They had an answer pretty much for every time we scored,” Turner said. “But we got the stops late.”
Fortunately for the Falcons they had another run in them, responding with a 10-2 push that made the score 77-75 with 3:42 to play.
Bowling Green got a pair of free throws by Derek Koch with 1:13 to play that gave his team an 80-79 lead, but Wilder was fouled on the next possession and made both free throws to give WMU back the lead at 81-80 with exactly one minute left.
Both team’s missed shots on their next possession, and after the Broncos’ miss Lillard attempted a 3-pointer from the left wing in the final seconds. Wilder fouled the BG junior, setting up the three game-winning free throws.
“It went in!” Huger said when asked what his reaction was to Lillard’s hideous first free throw. “I’ve never seen a shot like that.
“Once he made that first one, I knew he would make the next two. And he did.”
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