The Bowling Green Falcons defeated the Buffalo Bulls 73-63 to earn a season sweep over their conference rivals and clinch a bye into the third round of the upcoming Mid-American Conference tournament. The game was held at Alumni Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday afternoon.
This game, which continued a developing rivalry between two of the MAC's most talented teams, was very close from start to finish. The point differential between the teams was greater than two possessions' worth for only 21 seconds during the game's first 39 minutes, and there were a total of 18 lead changes.
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The Falcons took the lead in the first minute as Alexis Rogers grabbed two quick rebounds, which led to a 3-pointer by Jillian Halfhill. Both teams started rather slow on offense, and eight minutes into the game, the score was still 9-8 in favor of BGSU. Each team had just three field goals by that point, but all of the Falcons' were from beyond the arc.
Bowling Green held the lead for the vast majority of the half, but Buffalo was generally able to keep the Falcons close. With 9:28 left in the half, Erica Donovan drilled a trey for a brief 19-12 lead, but shortly after, Mackenzie Loesing converted a layup to cut the lead back to five. Donovan later sank another three for a four-point lead, but Loesing answered again, and as the clock clicked down to 4:45, the score was 25-23. Neither team would lead by more than 3 points from then until midway through the second half.
Buffalo finally tied the game at 26 on an "and-1" layup from Jenna Rickan, but Rogers answered with one of her own for BGSU. However, Alexus Malone converted a 3-pointer for the Bulls, and after an Abby Siefker turnover, a Rickan layup with 2:39 remaining in the half gave Buffalo their first lead of the game (31-29).
The lead flipped six times during the final three minutes of the period. The last change came with only nine seconds on the clock, when Rogers converted from point-blank range. Loesing missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and BGSU led 36-35 at halftime.
Like the first, the second half began slowly for both teams on offense. The rivals traded field goals four times during the first seven minutes in the half, and that resulted in eight lead changes. The last occurred thanks to a Jill Stein layup at the 6:54 mark of the period. BGSU led 45-44 and, after a pair of free throws, got a Donovan layup to fall two minutes later. That bucket made the score 49-44, and it was the first lead of more than three points in over 16 minutes of game action.
The Bulls fought back, and after BGSU took a 53-50 lead, Buffalo held the Falcons scoreless for nearly four minutes. While BGSU went on their scoring drought, the Bulls poured in five straight to take a 55-53 lead. The advantage flipped back to the Falcons when Jillian Halfhill finally ended their drought with a 3-pointer. BGSU led 56-55 with 4:40 left.
Buffalo took one final lead on the ensuing possession after a jumper by Karin Moss, but Rogers sank a jumper following a 30-second timeout. BGSU claimed a 58-57 lead with four minutes left, and they wouldn't trail again.
At this point, the Bulls went through their coldest stretch of the game on offense. They missed eight consecutive shots as well as the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity. After the first two misses, the Falcons earned a pair of offensive rebounds, and Rogers used the third chance to step back for a huge 3-pointer. BGSU followed with six free throws in eight attempts.
The 9-0 run gave BGSU a 10-point lead with just 30 seconds left. During those final 30 seconds, Moss and Malone each sank 3-pointers for Buffalo, but the Falcons made all six of their free throw attempts to douse any chance of a rally. Bowling Green escaped with a 10-point win.
Bowling Green finished the game just one basket shy of a 50 percent conversion rate (23-of-48). They shot 52 percent in the first half, including 7-of-12 from beyond the arc. The second half was not quite as successful, but they made 14 of 18 free throw attempts in the final 20 minutes. Twelve of those came within the last 120 seconds.
Buffalo made nearly half (23) of their first 48 shots, but they finished the game with a 41.7 shooting percentage after making only two of their final 12 shots. They were poor from long-distance and converted just four of 21 3-pointers, and they could not get to the free throw line. They attempted only 14 free throws and made just nine.
The Bulls won the rebounding and takeaway battles 34-32 and 17-16, respectively. However, they outscored the Falcons by only four points (33-29) in points resulting from offensive boards and turnovers.
Rogers and Donovan dominated the game for Bowling Green. The pair combined for 49 points and 13 rebounds. Rogers led the way with 25 points and seven boards, while Donovan contributed 24 points and six rebounds. The pair went a total of 19-of-28 from the field, including 7-of-12 from beyond the arc. Halfhill made two 3-pointers and seven free throws to contribute 13 points to the cause.
Alexus Malone led the Bulls with 18 points. Mackenzie Loesing, who left the previous meeting between these two teams after just five minutes, played 27 minutes this afternoon and scored 13 points.
The Falcons are now 23-3 overall and 13-1 in the MAC. The victory clinches no worse than fourth place in the MAC, and that means they have clinched at least a bye to the third round of the MAC tournament. If BGSU wins two of their final four games, they will clinch one of the top two seeds and a bye directly to the semifinals. Their next two games are at home against Kent State and Ohio, who are a combined 5-21 in the MAC.
Buffalo drops to 15-10 overall and 8-6 against MAC opponents. They drop, at least temporarily, into fifth place in the MAC. If they stay there, that would mean the Bulls would host a first round tournament game. The Bulls now need Toledo to lose at least once to potentially earn a bye to the third round. The Bulls play their next two games on the road, at Ohio and Miami.