In a game that had all the intensity and drama of a Mid-American Conference Tournament game, the Buffalo Bulls edged the Bowling Green Falcons, 77-75 Friday night in Buffalo, New York. While the game wasn't a loser-go-home affair, it only felt that way.
The MAC tournament doesn't start until Monday, but this game had a big impact on what will transpire in Cleveland next week. With the win, the Bulls (12-6, 21-9) earned the tournament's number two seed and will have a double-bye and won't play until the semi-finals next Friday night. The Falcons, now 11-7 and 19-10, get the number five seed and will play Ball State in Bowling Green on Monday night. The Falcons will have to now win five games in six days if they are make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1963.
Bowling Green played the majority of the game without forward Richuan Holmes, who could be named the MAC Player-of-the-Year next week. Holmes played only 13 minutes in the game after getting hurt with four minutes to go in the first half. Going for a rebound he got tangled up with a Buffalo player who subsequently fell on him as Holmes' face hit the floor. Holmes was taken to the locker room for the rest of the half with what looked like a busted lip. He came back out and started the second half but lasted less than 90 seconds. The media was reporting he was having concussion-like symptoms and did not play the rest of the game.
The Falcons got outstanding second half efforts from Jehvon Clarke, David Joseph and Josh Gomez to keep them in the game without Holmes. In fact, Bowling Green had their chances to win the game late but couldn't convert. The inability to close out games has absolutely killed the Falcons this season. They lost a heartbreaker at home to Kent State, 81-80 just three days earlier.
Perimeter defense was again a problem for the Falcons as the Bulls shot 11 of 24 (46%) for the game from the 3-point line. Will Regan and Shannon Evans did most of the damage for the Bulls going a collective 9 of 16 from beyond the arc. It seemed one of them was hitting a big 3-point shot whenever the Bulls needed it.
Bowling Green's Anthony Henderson was a perfect 3 for 3 from 3-point in the first half as the Falcons built a 14 point lead, 34-20 with just 3:48 left. Then the Bulls suddenly woke up. The Bulls went on a 15-1 run to close the half thanks to five straight 3-pointers from Evans (3) and Regan (2). Just like that, the score was tied 35-35 at the intermission.
The second half was a real slugfest as neither team had more than a four point lead at any time. Joseph would give the Falcons a 73-71 lead on a driving layup with under a minute to play. Regan would hit yet another three to give the Bulls the lead back at 74-73 with 38 seconds left. Joseph would come right back with another layup to give the Falcons the lead again 75-74 with 26 seconds left.
Buffalo's LaMonte Bearden would then hit a jumper to give the Bulls the lead for good at 76-75 with just 15 seconds left. On the ensuing Bowling Green possession, Henderson would get fouled but he missed the front end of the one-and-one and the Bulls grabbed the rebound. Justin Moss split a pair of free throw to make the final score, 77-75.
Moss led the Bulls in scoring with 19 points despite playing much of the game in foul trouble. Moss only played 21 minutes but also led the team with nine rebounds and three steals. Other Bulls in double figures in scoring were Regan with 17, Evans with 12, and Bearden with 10 off the bench. The Bulls shot 25 of 59 (42%) from the field for the game, and only 16 of 28 (57%) from the free throw line.
Clarke led the Falcons in scoring with a season high 21 points. Fellow senior, Henderson finished with 19 points, while Joseph added 13 and a team high four assists. Gomez filling in admirably for Holmes led the Falcons with eight rebound as they held a slight edge on the boards, 42-38. The Falcons shot 26 of 61 (43%) from the field, including 7 of 15 (47%) from 3-point, and 16 of 23 (70%) from the free throw line.
If the Falcons beat Ball State on Monday night, they'll advance to Cleveland to play Wednesday night against the winner of Miami and Eastern Michigan. Meanwhile, Buffalo will be rested, waiting to play their next opponent in Cleveland on Friday night in the semifinals.