The number 12-seed Bowling Green Falcons weren't supposed to be here. Everybody knew they were playing with house money after knocking off fifth-seeded Kent State on Monday night. Their opponent, the fourth-seeded Central Michigan Chippewas had beaten them twice handily during the regular season.
But tournament play is always a new season and the Falcons used a hot shooting second half and big plays from freshmen Antwon Lillard to take down Central Michigan, 62-59 in Mid-American Conference quarterfinal action in Cleveland on Thursday afternoon.
The Chips opened as much as six point lead several times in the first half, but couldn't extend it any further as they led by that margin, 31-25 at the half. They took their biggest lead in the second half at 49-41 with 8:49 left in the game. But the Falcons didn't fold the tent. They scored the next five points to climb back within three of the lead at 49-46 with 6:44 left, and suddenly it seemed anything was possible.
Central Michigan maintained a small lead for the next five minutes of the game. Lillard then had a chance to give the Falcons the lead with 1:07 left in the game but missed the front end of a one-and-one and the score stood at 56-55, Chippewas.
John Simons would then hit a driving layup to put the Chippewas up, 58-55. Lillard proceeded to hit a driving lay-up and draw the foul to make the score 58-57 with just 29 seconds left. But, he would again miss the free throw that would have tied the game. Central Michigan's Rayshawn Simmons then split a pair of free throws to push lead to 59-57 with 18 seconds left.
On the next Falcon possession, Lillard would make up for his errant free throw shooting by nailing a long three to give BG the lead, 60-59 with 12 seconds left.
Chris Fowler pushed the ball up the court for the Chippewas and made an errant pass that his teammate finally corralled but had to step out of bounds to do so.
BG had the lead and ball back with 3.9 seconds left. Bowling Green's Ismail Ali was fouled and hit both free throws to give the Falcons a 62-59 lead with just 2.9 left. Central Michigan called timeout to set-up a final play to try and tie the game with a three-pointer. They tried to make a three-quarters length pass to Simons, a-la Christian Laetner and Duke, but the pass was intercepted by the Damajeo Wiggins and the Falcons were on to the semi-finals.
"The play was actually designed for me to get to the rim," said Lillard. "But I saw that the defense was sagging in a bit so I took the shot."
Lillard, a freshman playing in front of his hometown crowd in Cleveland, finished with a game-high 26 points. Wiggins, another true freshman, was the only other Falcon in double figures with 10. Bowling Green shot 70 percent from the field in the second half on 14 of 20 shooting.
Central Michigan was led in scoring by Chris Fowler with 16 points, but most of those came in the first half. The Falcons did a great job defensively on the Chippewas other senior playmaker, John Simons. Simons finished with just eight points, and was 0-3 from three point. Poor foul shooting did as much as anything to lose this game for Central Michigan. They were just 13-24 for 54 percent from the line for the game. If they could have hit just a few of those down the stretch, the Falcons would not have had a chance at any late heroics.
Central Michigan finishes the year at 17-15, while Bowling Green improves to 16-17 on the year and advances to semi-final action tomorrow night against the number one seeded Akron Zips.
The Falcons haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1968. I guess stranger things have happened, but just don't ask me to think of one at this point.
|Antwon Lillard (26)
|Chris Fowler (16)
|Rasheed Worrell (6)
|John Simons (16)
|Ismail Ali (5)
|Chris Fowler (6)
|Wes Alcegaire (3)
|John Simons (1)
|Several Tied (1)
|Several Tied 12)