BOWLING GREEN - Bowling Green State University's Josh Almanson bounced high off the spongy Anderson Arena deck to block a shot by Toledo's Florentino Valencia midway through the opening half.
A few minutes later, Almanson squeezed his way between two defenders in the low post and delivered a dunk that shook the whole arena.
Those were about the only bright spots in a dismal 17-point first half for the Falcons, who outscored the Rockets 53-35 in the final 20 minutes for a stunning 70-69 victory.
Almanson, hampered by foul trouble most of the second half, finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots in 35 minutes.
He made just enough big plays to put a huge smile on the face of his father, Norm, who is enjoying his son's final season more than anyone else.
For a while, there was considerable doubt as to whether the elder Almanson would live long enough to watch Josh take another jumper, grab another rebound or block another shot.
In November of 2000, Norm received both kidney and pancreas transplants. After a struggle, his new kidney finally stopped working and he was forced to have another transplant Jan. 31, 2003 - his son's birthday.
The second kidney is working OK now for 53-year-old Norm, who also gets plenty of support from his wife, Marty, and daughter, Emily.
"Watching Josh play basketball this season has been a real strength for me," Norm said. "It kind of takes my mind off my own problems."
Like his father, Josh also is making the most of his second chance.
The 6-8, 243-pound senior power forward is the leading scorer in the Mid-American Conference with a 17.9 average - 11.4 points higher than his career average.
Almanson, a homegrown product who played just down Poe Road at Bowling Green High School, also leads the MAC in field-goal percentage, hitting 61.8 percent from the field.
He made three of four shots against the Rockets and three of four free throws.
Almanson's sudden scoring surge might surprise some, given that Toledo's Keith Triplett and Western Michigan's Ben Reed are more highly regarded offensive threats.
But Almanson's success primarily has to do with the fact that he is finally healthy. There also are more shots available since guard Ron Lewis transferred to Ohio State.
"We're winning games and I'm playing well," Almanson said. "It's just been a great experience. And I believe there are more good things to come, like tonight. We came back from 17 down at halftime to win, which was great."
A year ago, Almanson's rebound and three-point play with 9.7 seconds left in overtime lifted the Falcons to a 79-76 win over the Rockets on Feb. 25 in Anderson Arena. There were no such OT heroics last night.
Proud papa Norm, who sat a few rows from the court, still needs a walker to get around, the result of a broken left hip suffered in 2001 and a bone disease that has set into his right hip.
Despite his health problems, Norm has missed just two of his son's 15 games this season.
"Health-wise, I probably feel better than I have in years," he said, "and I think the way Josh has been playing basketball has a lot to do with that."
Josh, who lives less than five minutes away from his parents, still drops by a few nights a week for some home cooking, or to chat with his dad and the rest of the family.
"Any time you deal with a parent that's sick, it's not easy," Almanson said. "It's probably a million times harder on my dad than it is on me because he's dealing with it. But he's got such a good attitude, he just keeps on going."
Almanson arrived at BGSU in the fall of 2000, a year after the Falcons won the MAC regular-season title.
His career has been full of ups and downs.
After the Falcons finished 15-14 in his rookie season, Almanson was a reserve on the 24-9 team in 2001-02 that posted the school's most wins in 54 years and advanced to the MAC championship game for the first time since 1983.
Almanson then had to endure coach Dan Dakich's not-so-heavenly eight-day stay at West Virginia before Dakich was rehired at Bowling Green in April of 2002.
In 2002-03, Almanson played in just six games before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle. He eventually received a medical hardship waiver, allowing him to return for a fifth year.
No matter how the season turns out, Almanson already has rewarded his ailing father. Norm Almanson is not just still alive; he's full of life.
Contact Ron Musselman at: email@example.com or 419-724-6474.
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