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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Many feel the Falcons were snubbed … again

While the Bowling Green student body was on Spring Break, the messages from the BG basketball team were piling up on the desk.

In one seven-day span, the Falcons narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of Akron in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals in Cleveland, convincingly defeated Ball State in the semis, and lost their sixth consecutive game to Kent State in the tournament championship. Afterward, they were edged out of an NCAA at-large bid and ran out of gas in a season-ending 81-69 NIT loss to Butler in Indianapolis Thursday night.

That isn’t how the week started, however.

After Keith McLeod?s 3-pointer in the waning seconds lifted BG over Akron the previous Thursday, they took out Ball State last Friday with cold, surgical precision, more than making up for a January loss to the Cardinals in Muncie by eliminating them, and their hopes for an NCAA at-large bid, 69-57.

McLeod scored 36 points, 24 in the second half, as BG took a first-half lead and never let Ball State get within striking distance. BG advanced to the MAC final for the first time since 1983.

Depending on whether you view the glass as half-empty or half-full, BG was either dead meat or due for a win against Kent. It had lost five games in a row to the top-seeded Golden Flashes dating to last season, so the law of averages was in the Falcons’ favor. In addition, the top seed hadn’t won the MAC Tournament since 1996. Kent State, however, is quite good at winning in March. It was playing for its third NCAA bid in four years.

BG hung with Kent for the first half, pulling themselves back several times as Kent threatened to put the game out of reach. BG walked an ice-covered tightrope to half-time but managed to be tied with Kent at 30.

The Falcons kept a grip on the game as long as they could, even leading 37-36 early in the second half. Kent’s experience proved to be too much as seniors Trevor Huffman, Demetric Shaw and Andrew Mitchell started to out-perform BG, drawing fouls and hitting key shots as the Flashes took control of the game and won 70-59. Huffman won his second consecutive tournament MVP award. Last year, his shooting won him the award. This year, it was his defense on Keith McLeod.

The Flashes tinkered with their defensive sets at half-time to have Huffman and Mitchell key more on McLeod. As McLeod went, so did BG. After 16 points in the first half, the AP All-American Honorable Mention scored just four points in the second half and BG’s offense was mostly stuck in neutral.

BG left the floor at Gund Arena with a good case for an at-large NCAA bid but an uphill battle on its hands. It was 24-8 and had defeated tournament teams like Mississippi and North Carolina-Wilmington, but it was still a mid-major school with limited publicity.

The NCAA selection committee has never warmly embraced the little guys when selecting the 65 teams making the cut, a fact coach Dan Dakich acknowledged after the loss to Kent.

“To be frank, who gives a damn about the sixth-place team in the SEC?” he said. “Of course, the sixth-place team in the SEC could say, ‘Who gives a damn about the second-place team in the MAC?'”

In the end, the selection show yielded no MAC teams besides Kent. The Flashes are making the best case they can for MAC teams. As a 10-seed, they have upset Oklahoma State and Alabama, and will play Pitt in the Sweet 16 Thursday. But that didn’t make the sting go away for the Falcons or many of their fans.

“It is unfair because the MAC deserved two teams this year,” BG senior Marc Gibbons said. “They are the best mid-major conference out there, and other conferences got more than they deserved, like the Mountain West.”

“We beat three teams that made the tournament,” sophomore Ken Kraemer said. “We had the most wins of any team on the bubble. We definitely got screwed.”

For the second time in three years, BG won 20 games but failed to make the NCAA tournament. The 1999-2000 team went 22-8 and won a division title but lost in the MAC first round. It got an NIT bid against Brigham Young, but was dropped in a blowout loss.

BG’s plight gained some national attention. Dick Vitale took up the flag on

“I felt the selection committee would give (BG) a shot,” he said. “The MAC is an underrated conference that has fared well in the NCAA Tournament before. Bowling Green enjoyed a phenomenal year, beating Mississippi and Ball State. I thought that would be enough to get … the Falcons in the field, but I was wrong.”

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