The Bowling Green Falcons have spent all but one of the previous 40 days bouncing back and forth between tough-to-swallow late-game collapses, heartbreaking losses and demoralizing blowouts.
BGSU was 1-10 during that 40-day span that closed the regular season and slipped from the top of the Mid-American Conference to the league's worst record and the bottom seed in the MAC's postseason tournament.
Their reward was a trip to face the Kent State Golden Flashes, who had earned the #5 seed, as well as a tough dose of history. BGSU won a MAC Tournament game last season, and it had been 11 years since they had won one in back-to-back seasons.
Just six days prior to tonight, the Falcons had visited Kent and came away soundly beaten to the tune of 70-54 as the Golden Flashes earned a season sweep.
Despite it all, Bowling Green never wavered and earned head coach Michael Huger's first postseason victory.
Early in the game, each team sank a three while the other answered with a two, as the pair finished the first three minutes tied 5-5. From there, Kent State began to establish presence on the inside. Offensive rebounds on three consecutive possessions led to a 7-0 run and a 12-5 edge.
That started a flurry of runs for both teams. BGSU scored the next eight points to claim a 13-12 lead before a 15-6 surge by Kent State put them up by their largest margin of the game, 27-19. The Falcons went on another 8-0 run to tie the game, but the Flashes scored seven of the last nine points in the half to finish the first 20 minutes with a 39-32 lead.
Khaliq Spicer had a monster half and was toying with the possibility of a triple-double. At halftime, he had seven points, seven rebounds and four blocks. KSU had made six three-pointers, was out-rebounding BGSU and had made 7-of-9 from the free throw line.
BGSU managed just 11 points from Spencer Parker. Antwon Lillard went scoreless before the break. The team was just 6-of-10 from the free throw line and finished the half 2-for-9 from beyond the arc despite making one in the opening minute.
Things changed dramatically in the second half. Lillard made his first basket on the Falcons' first possession of the second half and brought BGSU within five points. Neither team would have a bigger lead for the rest of the game.
BGSU turned that start into an 11-0 run, as Parker scored and Lillard sank two more baskets, including a trey. In fact, KSU did not make a field goal for the first 6:30 of the second half. When Chris Ortiz finally made a transition layup, it tied the score at 44.
As the half approached its midpoint, Parker drilled a three to briefly give BGSU a five-point lead (52-47), its biggest of the game. However, Galal Cancer calmly went down and make the Flashes' first triple of the half. That shot cut the margin to 52-50 with 10:15 left.
From there, the game remained a one-possession affair until the last second.
Kent State fought valiantly as the time melted away and managed to swipe a one-point lead on several occasions. Unfortunately for the Flashes, Bowling Green was red hot from the floor throughout the half. Whenever they needed a bucket, the Falcons were able to find one and finished the half with 13 makes in 19 attempts.
Lillard had the ball stolen away with 4:30 to go and BGSU down by one, but Jimmy Hall gift-wrapped a turnover of his own. Lillard responded with buckets on the Falcons' next two trips down the floor, and they led 65-62 with 2:00 remaining.
After a timeout, Ortiz got inside and made a short jumper to get within 65-64. With 1:27 on the clock, KSU's season appeared to be saved when Demajeo Wiggins got wide open under the basket but watched as his layup attempt rimmed out.
Even worse for BGSU, the Falcons allowed Kent State several chances to take the lead in the final 90 seconds. David Joseph blocked a Kellon Thomas shot, but Spicer pulled down the rebound. Cancer clanked a three, but Ortiz beat the Falcons to the ball. After a timeout, Joseph blocked another Thomas shot, but this one went out of bounds.
On the final chance, Spicer had a wide-open layup chance of his own that would not go in, and Lillard rebounded. However, the Flashes had a fifth chance to take the lead when Joseph missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the free throw line. Somehow, they again could not convert, as Thomas gave the ball away.
Parker and Wes Alcegaire made four free throws, sandwiched around two by Thomas, and the Falcons led 69-66. KSU had one last chance to at least tie the game, but Lillard was there again with three seconds left. He stole the ball from Thomas and dished to J.D. Tisdale, who made one of two free throws after a foul to seal the game.
Ortiz put home a half-court shot at the buzzer for the final margin of 70-69.
Lillard was 6-for-7 in the second half with 13 points, four rebounds and that one huge steal. Meanwhile, Spicer managed just two points and two rebounds after halftime for KSU. Jimmy Hall was also ineffective with no field goals, two points and only one rebound.
Overall, Parker ended up with 18 points, while Alcegaire had 14 and Lillard finished with 13 for BGSU. Ortiz completed the game with a double-double for Kent State (18 points, 12 rebounds), while Thomas also posted 18 points.
BGSU shot 54 percent for the game as opposed to KSU's 39.3 percent. The Flashes had 16 offensive rebounds and won that overall battle 35-32, but they were outscored 30-18 in the paint.
The #12 Falcons will now play the #4 seed Central Michigan Chippewas on Thursday afternoon in Cleveland. The game will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Akron-Eastern MIchigan game, which will begin at noon.