After Thursday’s all-day action at Quicken Loans Arena, only four teams remain in contention in the MAC Tournament, and more importantly, for an NCAA Tournament bid.
One of those four teams was not expected to be here — Northern Illinois. After soundly defeating Ohio on Monday night in DeKalb, the Huskies stormed into Cleveland on a mission. Behind star point guard Eugene German’s 27 points, 7-seed Northern Illinois edged 2-seed Toledo, 80-76 in the first game of Thursday night’s double-header.
As Northern Illinois pulled off the most stunning upset of the young MAC Tournament, 3-seed Bowling Green was preparing to avoid an upset to 11-seed Ball State. The Falcons completed the task at hand and surged past the Cardinals in the second half to claim a 99-86 victory. The offensive shootout saw 105 combined first half points, and Bowling Green’s 44th-ranked scoring offense will look to replicate that performance in Cleveland on Friday.
Northern Illinois and Bowling Green is a frequent postseason matchup in the MAC, but it’s usually settled on the football field. The Huskies and Falcons clashed in MAC Championships in December from 2013-15, but now, both programs are competing for their first MAC Tournament title of the century.
Northern Illinois last won the tourney in 1982, three years prior to the March Madness bracket expanding to 64 teams. That same year was the last time NIU even reached the final round. In fact, since 2005, only one MAC West team has earned a March Madness bid — 2014 Western Michigan. Bowling Green has never worn the crown of the MAC tourney, but the Falcons were runners-up as recently as 2002.
Northern Illinois entered the tournament below .500, but the Huskies have improved to 17-16 after the two impressive victories. The Huskies’ key to pulling off another upset is the play of German, who has shot a lights-out 66.7 percent throughout the MAC Tournament. German has also corralled 12 rebounds and sunk 9-of-15 threes in the past two games.
Bowling Green’s defense suffered in its opening tournament game against Ball State, but the team cannot afford to have similar lapses against German and the Huskies. Offensively, the Falcons’ Thursday outing was more of a concerted effort. All five starters scored in double figures with Dylan Frye and Demajeo Wiggins scoring 20 and 22, respectively. Bowling Green didn’t quite match NIU’s absurd 58.8 percent 3-point shooting from Thursday, but the Falcons still connected on 45 percent of attempts versus Ball State.
Right now, NIU has the hot hand as winners of four of its last five. Meanwhile, Bowling Green slipped at the end of the season and sports a 2-4 record in its last six contests.
Northern Illinois and Bowling Green tip off late at 9 p.m. ET on Friday night. Once again, the teams will play at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, the same venue where the final will be held Saturday night. The semifinal will be viewable on FOX College Sports.