MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. -— The Bowling Green State University men’s basketball team lost its Mid-American Conference first-round tournament game Monday at Central Michigan.
But the 81-77 overtime setback can trace its origins to the Falcons’ play in the five games leading up to the loss at McGuirk Arena.
Had BG won at least one of those five contests, the game would have been played at the Stroh Center. That would have allowed the Falcons to avoid facing a hostile crowd, not to mention officials who whistled them for 24 fouls compared to 15 for the Chippewas.
The fouls were far from the entire story in the loss — for example, BG got just 14 second-chance points despite grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. But had the game been played at home, well, the Falcons were left to ponder the possibilities on a long bus ride home.
“I’m proud of the effort they gave,” Bowling Green coach Michael Huger said. “Hopefully this is a lesson we learn that this is how we have to play for every game.
“We didn’t have this type of energy and effort all season long.”
Huger also was left to wonder if that energy could have allowed them to avoid a season-ending six-game losing streak as the Falcons, the tournament’s No. 9 seed, end the year with a 16-16 mark.
Justin Turner and Antwon Lillard each finished with 17 points for Bowling Green, while Daequon Plowden added 11 off the bench.
Central Michigan (19-13), which will face top-seeded Buffalo in a quarterfinal of the MAC tournament at noon Thursday in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, had five players score in double figures. Cecil Williams finished with 18, Luke Meyer had 16, Shawn Roundtree scored 15, Kevin McKay netted 14, and David DiLeo 12.
The contest was close throughout, featuring 10 ties and nine lead changes in regulation. When the Falcons, who had struggled defensively in recent games, got a stop on CMU’s final possession in regulation, it seemed BG was poised to take control.
But instead the Chippewas scored on their first three possessions in the extra period to lead 71-65 with 3:17 to play.
“Our guys were tired at that time,” Huger said. “But we had multiple opportunities [in regulation] that we let slip away with turnovers and missed free throws.
“At the time you don’t think about it. But when you look back. …”
Williams, who was 1-for-8 in regulation and missed all four 3-pointers he tried, came to life in the extra session. He scored 11 points, including a back-breaking 3 with 1:07 on the clock that gave CMU a 76-70 lead.
Central Michigan, which had connected on just 6-of-11 free throws in the second half, then reverted to the form that made them one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country and made 9 of 10.
“They missed a couple of free throws during the second half,” Turner said. “But in the overtime, they made their free throws, and Williams played like a senior.”
Among the other causes for the loss were the struggles of Demajeo Wiggins, who had 12 rebounds but made just 1 of 9 shots had just three points, while Dylan Frye connected on just 2 of 11 on 3s and finished with eight points.
“Demajeo is beating himself up about it,” Huger said. “But hopefully we’ll remember this [feeling] in the off-season, and we’ll give ourselves a chance to win every game [next season].”
The Falcons return all but senior Matt Fox, who had three 3s and nine points in his final game, and Turner said that should lead to a brighter outlook for next season.
“We finally showed we can play as a team, and play with energy and effort,” Turner said. “We can’t take this as a loss: We have to take it as a lesson learned.
“If we bring energy and effort, we give ourselves a chance to win any battle.”
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