Fourth-year players combined to score the first 10 points for Bowling Green just minutes after its pregame senior night ceremony.
But Bowling Green lost its rhythm later in the half, going scoreless for nearly six minutes en route to a halftime deficit. The Falcons reclaimed a lead in the second half, later tied the game, before rallying to within two points after a 12-point deficit.
But despite a dozen 3-pointers, Bowling Green allowed 40 points in each half, struggled with ball security and could not overtake Buffalo in the final 10 minutes for a narrow 88-84 home loss at the Stroh Center.
“We’ve lost three in a row, but I liked the way we fought today. That looked like the team that I know; when we were out there fighting and competing,” BG head coach Michael Huger said. “I didn’t think we had that same fight, and we didn’t compete like that down in Miami or at Kent State.”
BG (21-10, 12-6 MAC) wraps up the regular season losing five of its last nine games, including consecutive road losses against Miami and KSU before Friday’s loss. With the loss it will be the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament and next plays at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Cleveland in a MAC quarterfinal.
Akron, which had already clinched a share of the league title, won the outright regular-season MAC championship and earns the one-seed with Bowling Green’s loss. Buffalo finishes 20-11, 11-7.
“None of this matters. Like it matters, obviously we finished second, but it is what it is at this point. We can’t go back and change anything. All we can focus on is the future,” Falcons guard Justin Turner said after scoring a team-high 23 points. “And that’s next Thursday. So when we head to Cleveland, just a fresh mindset and just knowing that our goal is still in front of us.”
Bowling Green lost four of its last five games entering last season’s MAC tournament before back-to-back wins led it to the MAC title game on Saturday night.
Teams do not look to lose and there’s no reason to believe a loss to end the regular season is a positive. But there is a natural reset for the birth of league tournament.
“It’s a different energy, everything is renewed. Everything starts over. Every team has the same chance. Records are out the window. So whether you’re in 12th or first, it’s out the window now,” Huger said. “Now it’s just one game. … It doesn’t matter if we won the regular season or lost regular season, that first game, nobody cares. They know it’s a 50-50 chance.”
Despite rediscovering their fight that had went missing over the past week, the Falcons still struggled on one side of the floor.
BG allowed 56 points in the paint pushing its three-game total to 144 points in the paint over the past seven days. Of the 244 points allowed in those three losses, nearly 60% of the points allowed have come in the key.
Buffalo, which plays three guards and a forward listed at 6-foot-5, have explosive but strong ball-handlers who can create enough space to finish difficult layups.
“I feel like they spaced us out really well. We knew that coming in that they were a driving team. They were getting to the paint a lot. They were driving us, we didn’t really show that much resistance,” Turner said. “Other than that, I think they hit some tough shots.”
Buffalo’s leading scorer, junior guard Jayvon Graves, scored an efficient 25 points. Four others scored in double figures for the Bulls.
Turnovers changed the game.
BG used a 14-3 run to take a 47-46 lead early into the second half. But over the next 10 minutes, Buffalo found the biggest lead of the game, 77-65, after a disastrous stretch for the Falcons.
Dylan Frye’s layup brought BG within two points, but a quick 4-0 run was capped with a Falcons turnover and a Davonta Jordan dunk at the other end.
Huger’s timeout was seemingly ineffective as just seconds after, BG turned the ball over 30 feet from the basket and Jordan went the other way for another dunk.
“Pressuring us, being really physical. That’s kind of expected though because they’ve been playing like that for the past five, six years. It’s different when you say it though, and then you actually get out there and they’re strong guards,” Turner said. “They have good players. They were just denying the wings and being very physical.”
Jordan, who scored 16, followed the two dunks up with a third — a high-rising slam in a half-court set. Josh Mballa, Buffalo’s 6-7 forward, put the Bulls ahead by 12 after a feed from Jordan led to a dunk of his own.
But Bowling Green overcame a first-half drought. Caleb Fields made a layup for a one-point lead with 10:14 to play in the opening half, but the Falcons did not score again until there was 4:24 left. Michael Laster, a senior guard who scored 10 with eight rebounds, buried a baseline jumper to stop a 10-0 Buffalo run and bring BG within seven.
The timely mistakes proved too much to overcome.
“Buffalo’s one of the fastest playing teams in the nation, so not only turning it over makes it difficult, but against them, they get it out so fast — make or miss,” Turner said. “When you turn it over you can’t really get your defense set. And they execute a lot off turnovers. That’s one of their strengths.”
Frye finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and a team-high five assists for BG. Daeqwon Plowden scored 11 with nine rebounds and Fields added eight points.