The Buffalo Bulls arrived at tonight's final regular season game as the prospective #6 seed in the Mid-American Conference Men's Basketball Tournament. Depending on how the evening's games fell, they could fall to #7 or rise as high as #3, but a lot needed to go their way for the best-case scenario.
The Bowling Green Falcons were playing for pride more than anything else as their seniors played a final home game at the Stroh Center. The Falcons could avoid the MAC's #12 seed with a win but needed help both Miami and Western Michigan.
The Bulls played just like you would expect a team to play if they have a tournament bye on the line, but the Falcons played as if they had just as much at stake. BGSU led for much of the second half and scored 83 points, more than all but three other conference games this season.
However, as has so often been the case during the last six weeks, Bowling Green simply could not do what was necessary in the final minutes to take a lead and turn it into a win. Tonight, turnovers and poor free throw shooting in the final minutes doomed the Falcons.
When the game began, it took several possessions for the two teams to get settled, and Buffalo got there first. The Bulls scored the game's first seven points, including a three from Willie Conner. They maintained a lead that bounced between four and nine points for the next several minutes.
A pair of buckets from David Joseph finally pulled the Falcons to within three with 4:48 left in the half, but the Bulls immediately went on an 11-4 run that was capped by a trey from Nick Perkins for a 41-31 lead. It would be Buffalo's only double-digit lead.
The Falcons closed the half on a 6-0 run for the final two minutes. The final four came from Antwon Lillard, who ultimately scored a season-best 19 points.
Just 58 seconds into the second half, Spencer Parker buried a three to get BGSU within one point. Parker, who has put together some huge second halves in recent games, did so again tonight with 16 points in the final 20 minutes.
The Falcons had four chances to take their first lead of the game during a three-minute span following Parker's bomb and could not get over the hump. Finally, on the fifth try with 15:50 to play, Wes Alcegaire invaded the paint for a layup that put BGSU ahead 46-45.
Buffalo trailed by one or two possessions for almost all of the time from that point until 2:00 remained. Split free throws by Parker gave Bowling Green an 81-77 lead with 2:17 to go, and Rasheed Worrell emphatically blocked a Conner shot on the next possession.
That's when it all began to fall apart for the Falcons (or come together for the Bulls, depending on your perspective).
Lillard followed the Worrell block with a missed three. The Bulls then missed a shot, but C.J. Massinburg saved an offensive rebound. Blake Hamilton made BGSU pay with a jumper plus the extra free throw after he was fouled by Parker, which cut the Falcon lead to 81-80.
Alcegaire missed another triple for Bowling Green, and Worrell fouled Rodell Wigginton to give Buffalo a 1-and-1 opportunity. Wigginton missed the front end, but Conner pulled down another offensive rebound for the Bulls, Lamonte Bearden then scored to give Buffalo an 82-81 lead with 60 seconds left.
A basket by Parker gave the Falcons a brief reprieve, but Bearden made a pair of free throws following an Ismail Ali foul to reclaim the lead for good.
The Falcons' Worrell and Ali turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, and Buffalo made three of four free throws to seal the 87-83 victory.
Hamilton and Bearden each had 20 points and five rebounds for Buffalo. Conner, Massinburg and Nick Perkins also scored in double figures. For BGSU, Parker ended the game with 20 points and five rebounds. Lillard had 19 on just 11 shots plus six rebounds. Joseph and Alcegaire contributed 13 and 11 points.
Both teams shot the ball well from the field and poorly from the free throw line. Buffalo made half of its 66 shots, while Bowling Green sank 32 of 60 (53.3 percent). However, both shot under 60 percent from the charity stripe.
The difference was three-point shooting. Buffalo buried ten of 25 threes (40 percent), but the Falcons were only 6-for-21.
Buffalo (17-14, 10-8 MAC) is the #3 seed in the MAC Tournament and will play in Thursday's quarterfinals in Cleveland. Their opponent will be either the winner of the #6 Ball State vs. #11 Miami game.
BGSU (14-17, 5-13 MAC) is the #12 seed in the MAC Tournament. They will travel to face #5 Kent State on Monday at 7:00 p.m., and the winner of that game will face #4 Central Michigan on Thursday.