Bowling Green arrived at Alumni Arena Saturday night carting a 5-9 record that belied its capabilities. The Falcons had found solid footing after losing eight of their first nine games. They came to town having won four of five, a span during which they'd shot better than 50 percent from the field.
The Falcons validated their recent upswing in fortunes with textbook execution against the University at Buffalo's man-to-man help defense on the opening night of Mid-American Conference play. They created a steady stream of high-percentage shots. And they took a punch at the end of regulation and persevered, dealing UB a 74-71 double-overtime defeat before 1,761 at Alumni Arena.
Bowling Green ravaged a Bulls defense that ranked tops among Mid-American Conference teams in field-goal percentage defense, shooting 51.7 percent. The winning basket came fittingly on a Danny McElroy inside move with 20.5 seconds left that gave the Falcons an even 50 points in the paint on the night. UB's Mitchell Watt missed a short hook shot at the other end with 4.6 seconds remaining before Scott Thomas hit one of two free throws for the final margin.
UB forced a second overtime on a rebound basket by Watt with 3.6 seconds left. The Falcons had led from the 2:42 mark until Watt's heroics.
The Bulls (8-5, 0-1) struggled with Bowling Green's 2-3 zone, shooting just 39.4 percent -- and making just 4-of -6 shots in the overtimes. Still, they had every chance to come away with a victory if their defense and conference-leading rebounding didn't fail them. But in addition to its sizzling shooting percentage, Bowling Green owned the glass, 46-37.
"We have a pretty active defense and it relies on a tight rotation and it wasn't as tight as we would have liked it to be," Watt said. "They were pretty good at moving the ball and they knew where there wanted to go with it."
"They made the shots we missed," UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "We didn't settle into a rhythm in either end of the floor. We talked about being able to stretch out and contest them, and their post players made some tough shots, and every time you get 50 points in the paint you're struggling."
Sophomore forward A'uston Calhoun had a game-high 20 points for the Falcons -- 11 over his average. Junior forward Scott Thomas added 19 points with 11 boards while sophomore forward Danny McElroy netted 13. The three combined to go 23 of 41 from the field.
"I feel that over the last five games each player has developed more of a sense of urgency to contribute to the team and to make the team better," Calhoun said. "And over these last five games I feel that everybody has gotten better individually which helps us to get better as a team."
The Falcons shredded UB on the inside as if they'd been practicing for weeks with this game in mind. Was that the case, or was this an extension of what the Falcons have been accomplishing in recent weeks?
"I think it's a combination of both," coach Louis Orr said. "I think we've been doing a good job sharing the ball the last six games. We've been making the game easier for each other. And I thought against Buffalo you had to make the extra pass because they're such a great help team and their big guys are so much of the help."
UB's top scorer, freshman forward Javon McCrea, netted 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting before fouling out with 2:13 left in the first OT and the Bulls down one. They missed him. Point guard Byron Mulkey went 4 of 16 from the field, shooting guard Zach Filzen 4 of 15. Watt, who had the big basket at the end of overtime No. 1, missed two tight-in shots in the last 46 seconds of the second OT and finished 4 of 12.
UB forward Titus Robinson came in off the bench and played 10 minutes after suffering a wrist injury in practice this week.
The Bulls hit the road to play Miami (Ohio) on Thursday. The RedHawks (5-9) have played the fourth-toughest non-conference schedule in the country with losses to Duke, San Diego State, Ohio State, Dayton, Cincinnati and Kansas.