BOWLING GREEN — It has been more than a month since the Bowling Green State University men’s basketball team saw its season end with a thud, a six-game losing streak that included an overtime loss at Central Michigan in the opening round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Michael Huger, who just completed his third year in charge of his alma mater’s program, admitted that last year’s season-ending losing streak represented an opportunity lost.
“We were a point away from winning at Kent State, and there was a questionable situation,” he said, tiptoeing around a hotly debated end-of-game call that cost the Falcons a road victory and started the team’s final losing skid. “But we didn’t recover from that, and it affected us in the next game.
“That’s just basketball. We have to be mentally tougher than that. We have the talent — we have to make the mental change and say, ‘We can do this.’”
Huger said that, in the team’s postseason meetings, the issue of mental toughness seemed to be addressed.
“At times it was almost as if guys excluded themselves from the problems late in the season,” he said. “The issues were with someone else. But we needed to understand that one guy can’t lose a game and you win the game even though you’re on the same team. We had to learn that we win as a team, and we lose as a team.
“In our meetings, guys owned up to what was going on. When you can own up and accept the responsibility, you’re moving in the right direction.”
But Bowling Green’s season-ending thud was quickly followed by another jolt. The Falcons expected to lose just one senior from a young team that had finished 16-16 overall but just 7-11 in conference play — and instead saw three players transfer while a fourth has made himself eligible for the NBA draft.
Guards Rodrick Caldwell and Nelly Cummings along with forward Derek Koch announced that they were leaving the program, which meant BG lost two players with starting experience and three who played significant minutes much of last season.
“It hurts when you lose guys, but you have to have guys who want to be here,” Huger said. “If they don’t want to be here, it’s never going to work out.
“It happens everywhere, and it happens to us. I really believe we’ll be fine.”
Then Springfield High School product Demajeo Wiggins announced that he is making himself eligible for the NBA draft, meaning the Falcons may lose an All-MAC performer who was second on the team in scoring (13.7 points per game) while ranking among the league leaders with 10.1 rebounds per contest.
Huger said he is proceeding as if Wiggins, who did not hire an agent to maintain his amateur status, will return for his senior year.
“Just because I expect him to come back doesn’t mean he’s coming back, though,” Huger said. “He’s still working on the stuff he needs to right now, and we’ll see where that takes him.”
Earlier this month Bowling Green added two players in guards Caleb Fields and Mike Laster.
Fields averaged 21.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists while leading Wildwood Catholic in Middle Township, N.J., to the Cape-Atlantic League title and a 26-3 record, earning league player of the year and third-team all-state honors.
“He can handle the ball and he can play the point,” Huger said of Fields. “He shoots the ball extremely well, and he’s a good defender.
“He needs to get bigger and stronger, but that’s true with all freshmen. I like his basketball IQ, and I like the intensity he brings to the court. He’s a great student, and he’s a great kid to be around.”
Laster is from Manhattan, N.Y., and played two seasons at Central Georgia Tech Junior College in Macon, Ga. This past year he averaged 15.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.5 steals in leading the Titans to a 25-9 record and a berth in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I tournament.
Laster was named to a second-team NJCAA All-American.
“He’s out of New York City, and some of his guys there were the first people who told me about him,” Huger said of Laster, who has two years of eligibility remaining. “He’s left-handed, and he’s a good scorer who’s able to create shots for himself and for others.
“I was looking for someone who could create shots for everybody and still be able to score. I think he’s talented.”
The Falcons still have three scholarships available, and Huger said there is a chance all three will be awarded before next season, either to transfers or incoming freshmen.
“I’m looking to find [players for] all three [scholarships] if possible, but we need to find the right fit for us,” Huger said. “There’s always work to be done, but I like who we have right now — and I like what we have returning right now.”
And Huger said his team is working on a unique skill this summer.
“Getting bigger and stronger and more skilled are always the goals in the summer,” he said. “But I want us to be more mentally tough.
“We need to defend better than we did. … But we let a lot of stuff distract us on the court. We need to block out the distractions to allow us to be better on the court.”
And the BG coach is confident his team is capable of taking a step forward next season.
“From watching other teams, we see that we’re not that far away from other teams — if we do what we’re supposed to do,” Huger said. “From watching Buffalo, from watching Loyola, from watching UMBC, we saw teams that found that ‘chemistry of us’ that put it all together.
“They were teams that bonded, that decided to play defense like crazy and see what happens. And they were successful — even though nobody expected it.”
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