CLEVELAND - The rematch will be one team's final game.
Either the University of Toledo or Bowling Green State University will be heading back to northwest Ohio to begin its offseason after tonight's meeting in the Mid-American Conference men's basketball tournament.
Perhaps that's a pessimistic way of viewing this first-round game which starts at 5:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena. After all, the winner will advance to play Kent State, and UT, the eighth seed, and BGSU, the ninth seed, notched wins over the top-seeded Golden Flashes during the regular season.
"We're just going to keep our fingers crossed and try to play good basketball," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "Anything can happen, as far as I'm concerned."
Joplin knows. His Rockets were seeded seventh two years ago, beat BG in the first round, and proceeded to make it to the finals before falling to Kent. The MAC season is usually filled with strange occurrences, and that doesn't seem to cease once the tournament begins.
"In any given day a team can beat you, but in order to win three or four games in a row, nine times out of 10, you're not just coming in shooting the lights out," BG coach Louis Orr said.
That's one of Orr's many ways of saying the Falcons must implement strong defense or they're experience will be short lived. Success for BG (13-16, 7-9) isn't predicated on trading buckets, which was glaringly obvious in the Falcons' last two games - ugly losses at Buffalo and Miami. Once in contention to receive a first-round bye, the Falcons have won just twice in the last month, dropping five league games during that span. But on Feb. 10, just before that rut, BG knocked off UT 69-58 at Anderson Arena. Orr downplayed the significance then, believing it was no different than any other win. The second meeting, though, is serious business."It's funny the way it worked out," BG junior Brian Moten said. "We're up to whoever we play. I know they'll be up to it too, so it's definitely going to be a competitive game."
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Whereas BG is sliding, the Rockets (10-18, 7-8) are heading in the other direction. UT has won two straight, which is no small feat considering it has not won three in a row. It wasn't until Sunday, in the final game of the season, that the Rockets picked up their only road win - 90-83 in overtime at Central Michigan.
"It took us until the last one, but we're here now and hopefully we can use this as momentum going into the MAC tournament," senior Jerrah Young said.
Because of UT's road woes, neither team will place much emphasis on BG's win at Anderson Arena. Employing a pressure zone defense, the Falcons forced UT into attempting 25 3-pointers and the Rockets made just nine. Tyrone Kent, the MAC's leading scorer, shot just 5 of 20 from the field and finished with 15 points.
With an emphasis on dribble penetration, UT has registered its two highest shooting marks of the season in the last two games, going for 51 percent against Eastern Michigan and 54 at Central. Should that trend continue, BG could be in trouble.
"They had some guys step up and hit big shots," Orr said. "They're a team that plays with courage. They have firepower and they play hard."
- Ryan Autullo and Maureen Fulton
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