Bowling Green boasts arguably the best backcourt duo in the Mid-American Conference with preseason all-MAC guards Justin Turner and Dylan Frye.
Turner and Frye combined for 19 points on sub-21% shooting in Saturday’s game against Northern Illinois.
But Bowling Green, despite never leading by double digits, trailed for just 89 seconds in the second half in holding off NIU for a 66-64 win in MAC play on Saturday at the Stroh Center.
“Our whole team is good players. If me and Justin aren’t on, we’re still supposed to win the game, no matter what,” Frye said. “People stepped up, we rebounded really well tonight and we won the game.”
Bowling Green improved to 13-5 overall and have won four straight league games to move to 4-1 in the MAC — which is tied for the best record in the conference. Northern Illinois fell to 9-9, 2-3.
Frye scored 14 on 4-of-12 shooting and, despite being second all-time for 3-pointers made in BGSU history, made just one triple. But Frye’s only 3 came in the final minute to break a 60-60 tie. On a baseline inbounds play, Frye caught the ball around a Tayler Mattos screen and buried a leaning shot from the left corner for a 3-point lead.
Turner, the Falcons’ leading scorer for the season, was scoreless in the first half, finished with five points on 1-of-12 shooting, but hit a 3 to take a 1-point lead with 5:26 to play. He later knocked down a pair of free throws with 29.5 seconds left to take a 65-60 lead.
“We were able to hit big shots when we had to make a shot. That’s what happened at the end, we had to make shots and we were able to make those shots. And that was the difference in the game,” BG head coach Michael Huger said.
Bowling Green, which made 19-of-58 (32.8%) field goals including 7-of-25 (28%) of its 3-pointers, out-rebounded the Huskies 42-32 and doubled up NIU on the offensive glass with 16 offensive rebounds — which led to 18 second-chance points. NIU entered Saturday’s game second in the MAC with nearly 12 offensive rebounds per game.
“It was something we worked on all week. Going in we saw how those guys rebound, their size, their physicality. Leading up to this, all week, all we did was rebounding drills and different things like that to kind of prepare our minds for this type of battle — and it was exactly what we did and what we prepared for,” Huger said.
Caleb Fields, who was tasked with defending the MAC’s leading scorer Eugene German from the tip, matched Daeqwon Plowden’s four offensive rebounds for the team lead.
Fields corralled a missed 3-pointer and tossed the ball back up for a layup to take a 34-25 lead — the largest of the game — late in the first half and later snagged his own miss for a putback and a 45-42 lead midway through the second half. To close the first half, Fields (7 points) poked the ball loose from German’s handle before forcing a traveling violation from the all-MAC guard to maintain a 36-27 halftime lead.
German finished with a team-high 19 points for the Huskies, but did so shooting 6-of-19 from the floor and 3-of-9 from 3-point range.
“That’s all you can really do with German at this stage. … He can score in a variety of ways. The biggest thing you want to do is make it tough on him and try to contain him,” Huger said. “You’re not going to stop him. We made him take 19 shots to get 19 points, so that means we did a really good job on him.”
Fields chased German around the floor actively denying the initial pass and taking away his space when he did have the ball. While defended by Fields in the first half, German did not have a field goal and scored one point.
Plowden led BG with 10 points at halftime and finished with a double-double, scoring a team-high 15 points with 11 rebounds. The high-flying forward also hit 3-of-6 3s, with his third coming early in the second half from the right wing to take a 41-37 lead.
Tayler Mattos scored 11 with eight rebounds, did not commit a turnover, blocked a shot and had a pair of steals. Mattos’ putback, on the ensuing possession resulting from Turner’s drawn charge in transition, put BG ahead 43-40.
The 6-foot-11 sophomore center made maybe his biggest play with 3:08 to play in the game. As NIU’s 240-pound redshirt-senior Lacey James attempted to get post position, Mattos fronted James and caught the entry pass while falling down. James, NIU’s second leading scorer, was assessed his fifth foul on the play and fouled out.
“This was fun to be a part of. To see your team struggle on the offensive end, defensively a little bit as well, and still find a way to win the game. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. Is finding a way to win the game, and we found a way,” Huger said.