It was often a struggle, and the end was as ugly as you could ask for in an early December game. Despite all the warts, the Bowling Green Falcons persevered and defeated the UMBC Retrievers 72-64 on Wednesday night at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The Retrievers arrived at the first-ever meeting between the two schools in need of a serious boost. They were 1-6 and had been outscored by an average of 11.3 points per game. They were shooting under 40 percent and scoring just 63.7 points on average while allowing 75 points per game and a shooting percentage of nearly 48 percent.
BGSU was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Falcons had won three in a row with an average of 85.7 points per game and a rebounding edge of 10 per game for those contests. They've also been a very balanced team this year; in each of their four wins before Wednesday, they had at least four scorers in double figures.
In the first half of this game, UMBC was red-hot. They confused the Falcons' defense and found wide-open shots from outside, and they buried those chances. The Retrievers made six of their first 10 three-pointers, as they built an early 19-12 lead midway through the first half. BGSU fought back to take very brief leads of 21-19 and 23-22, but each time, UMBC re-took the lead from beyond the arc.
Later in the half, the Falcons continued to try to get the lead back. They pulled within two with 5:00 left in the first and then within one with 45 seconds left. Both times, Ben Grace answered with treys, and the Retrievers took a 33-29 lead into the locker room.
Fortunately for the Falcons, they adjusted on defense and UMBC shooting regressed to its season norms. After its hot 6-for-10 start, the Retrievers made only three of their final 17 three-point attempts. Overall in the second half,, UMBC made only nine of 24 shots from the floor, while BGSU sank 15 of 31.
Despite never having more than a seven-point lead, the visitors were able to fend off the Falcons for the first eight minutes of the second half. Finally, a pair of free throws by Ismail Ali with 11:54 left in the game gave BGSU a lead they kept for the remainder of the contest. Those free shots were courtesy of a technical foul by Cody Joyce; it was UMBC's second technical of the half.
BGSU finally went on a big 9-0 run late in the second half and took a 65-52 lead with just 4:00 remaining. However, the game was not over. Over the final four minutes, the Falcons committed six fouls and seven of their 17 total turnovers. UMBC was able to climb within four points before they finally recovered with a three-point play by Spencer Parker that sealed the 72-64 win.
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1. Spencer Parker and Zack Denny are proving to be a formidable combo.
Over their last five games, these two have combined for 56 minutes per game and are shooting a cumulative 49.6 percent. They're averaging 30.2 points and 16.8 rebounds per game. Parker has scored in double figures in each of his last five and has at least 20 twice in the last three games. He also has at least six rebounds in each of those five. Denny has had games of 17 and 18 points and three games with 11 rebounds, including two double-doubles. Both players rank in the top 15 in the MAC in both points and rebounds.
If these two are able to maintain these numbers in conference play and others can be successful in supporting roles, the Falcons will be a factor in the MAC race.
2. There is still lots to clean up.
Allowing a poor shooting team to get off to such a hot start is not a good idea, and in the post-game presser, Parker cited some communication problems on defense in the first half. Some of that can be attributed to players still getting used to the system and to each other, but it needs to be fixed.
As for the end of the game, BGSU is lucky to have won. You cannot have seven turnovers in four minutes at any point in a game, but it's particularly important when you're nursing a lead at the end of a game. When you add in the fouls that you would normally associate with the team that's behind, it was (almost) a total collapse. We've previously been over how this team is still dealing with inconsistency, but it would be a good idea not to play with that particular fire again.
The Falcons, now 4-2, will host the Drake Bulldogs at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5. Drake is currently 4-3 but has won three of its last four games, including victories over Western Kentucky, Pepperdine and Illinois-Chicago.