BGSU locks down Air Force in 62-58 win


In a battle of Falcons vs. Falcons, Bowling Green State University men’s basketball won its fifth straight home opener at the Stroh Center, downing the Air Force Academy Monday, 62-58.

Air Force opened a quick 13-2 lead, but BGSU battled back, taking a 19-18 lead on a drive by senior guard Samari Curtis with nine minutes remaining in the first half.

Bowling Green never trailed again, although Air Force kept BG’s lead to within single digits most of the game.

Leon Ayers III, a 6-foot-5 senior guard who transferred from Duquesne, led BG with 16 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

It was Ayers’ first game in the Stroh Center, and he liked the energy from the hometown fans.

“Man, it was good,” Ayers said. “It was my first, last home game, so I just tried to be positive. Just play hard, you know.

“It was very good energy. Our crowd and our teammates — it was a good vibe tonight.”

Curtis, a 6-4 returning guard, scored 14 points to go with two steals, three assists, and three rebounds.

Rashaun Agee, a 6-8 junior forward who transferred from Casper College, scored 13 points, and grabbed seven rebounds.

For Agee, it was his first game at the Stroh, too, and he also loved the interaction between the fans and his teammates.

“That helped us great, to be honest,” Agee said. “You could hear the energy on the bench.

“No matter what goes on, no matter if something negative happens on the court like someone takes a bad shot, a turnover, the energy is positive. Next play, next play, next shot, and then it just runs off on everybody,” Agee continued.

BG was 22-for-56 (39%) from the field, including 6-for-20 (30%) from downtown, and made 12 of 19 (63%) free throws. BGSU controlled the boards by a 38-31 count.

Bowling Green High School product Isaac Elsasser, a 6-4 senior guard, scored five points, 6-9 junior forward Sam Towns had three points and six rebounds, and 6-3 senior guard Brenton Mills had three points and four rebounds.

Starting 5-11 sophomore guard Kaden Metheny had three points and two steals, 6-0 freshman guard Willie Lightfoot had three points and two assists, and 6-7 senior forward Chandler Turner added two points.

Defensively, BGSU’s goal was to cut down on backdoor cuts, and coach Michael Huger said Air Force did not score once on a backdoor cut.

“Air Force runs really good stuff,” Ayers said. “They run a lot of backdoors and keep you on your toes, so we did a lot of emphasis on the backdoor cuts in practice to prepare for that.

“Our gameplan was just to make them shoot over the top of us and not give up any easy backdoors, and it worked.”

Huger added, “That was a big key for us, giving up zero backdoor cuts. They play in a 60s possession a game, we play 75, so we wanted to get it closer to our range, and we had 70 possessions.

“So, we won a lot of little battles that we had over there. Just the way the guys stuck together and hung in there was fun to be a part of.”

Air Force did cut the score to a single possession, 61-58, on a three-point shot by senior guard Camden Vander Zwaag, with 10.5 seconds remaining.

However, BGSU remained focused in the closing seconds as Ayers hit one of two free throws to ice the game with 9.4 seconds on the clock.

“Through the stretch, the important thing was always to get the win at the end of the day,” Agee said.

“I feel that’s the only thing that is on our mind — come out with a ‘W’. No matter what is going wrong throughout the whole game, we are always going to be together as a family and try to get that win.”

Air Force was 22-for-55 (40%) from the field, 12-for-34 (35%) from beyond the arc and made just two of four free throws. The two teams combined for 27 turnovers, 14 by Air Force.

The 6-4 Vander Zwaag led Air Force with 14 points and three assists, Jake Heidbreder, a 6-5 sophomore guard, scored 12 points, and Carter Murphy, a 6-4 senior guard, scored 11.

Huber and Agee say this year’s BGSU team has a different vibe than last year’s.

“It’s definitely a different vibe,” Huger said. “These guys play hard. They compete hard in practice every single day.

“They have fun with each other, they are here for each other, they cheer for each other. It’s just night and day from what we had last year and it’s a lot of fun to coach. A lot of times they just hold themselves accountable, so it just makes my job easier.”

Agee added, “It was hard at times, but I feel like us just being together — this team right here, we are together all the time, on the court, off the court, whatever when we can find time to be together, we are close.

“This team here is a difference-maker more than any other team I’ve seen before. This team — we are always going to stick together no matter what happens.”

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