BG’s fast start helps them advance in MAC tournament

Joel Hammond and Joel Hammond

MUNCIE, Ind. — Bowling Green had won only one of ten meetings with Ball State at Worthen Arena entering last night’s opening round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.

Make that two of 11.

Cory Ryan held the conference’s leading scorer, Chris Williams, without a point in the first half — allowing his team to jump out to a 17-point halftime lead — and the Falcons held on for a 90-81 win to advance to the second round to face Central Michigan Thursday night at Gund Arena.

Williams, who entered the game averaging 24.4 points, scored 23 in the second half and 26 for the game in a Jan. 7 loss to BG at Anderson Arena, and scored 25 — including four straight threes to extend his team’s lead over the Falcons — two weeks ago at home.

“They were trying to take something we worked so hard for, and that was our season,” Ryan said after the game. “Coach told me to just deny him [Williams] the ball, and to limit his touches. You’re not going to stop a great player like that, you just have to slow him down.”

The Falcons couldn’t have asked for a better start after being dominated two weeks ago in Muncie, a game in which they trailed by as many as 30 en route to a 94-73 loss. The Falcons jumped out to a 6-0 lead, and after two baskets by the Cardinals, Kevin Netter assisted Ron Lewis on a hoop and scored two baskets of his own to push the lead to 12-4 and force a BSU timeout. After the timeout, Cole Magner hit a three for a 9-0 BG run and an 11-point lead.

The Cardinals cut the lead to eight with just over eight minutes left in the half, but BG went on another quick 8-0 run, including Raheem Moss’ second three of the half, to push the lead to 30-14. BG led by as many as 19 before Rob Owens scored to end the half, and BG took a 43-26 lead into the intermission.

BG coach Dan Dakich said the big lead the Falcons gathered was critical against the Cardinals.

“We don’t score that easily,” Dakich said, “so to get that lead was very big for us. In the back of my mind was Williams and his ability to score, so we definitely needed that lead. Cory did a great job on Williams. He held a phenomenal scorer down, and his concentration was great.”

The second half started quickly, but tight officiating slowed the game down dramatically. BSU’s Kevin Cates picked up his fifth foul just 53 seconds into the second half, but BG experienced its own foul trouble as Netter, Cory Eyink and John Reimold all had four fouls with over 10 minutes left, and Moss fouled out with 10:20 to go. Still, though, BG maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half, a lead that stretched to 21 after Eyink hit a three and Lewis one of two free throws with 16:44 left in the game.

The Cardinals consistently chipped away at the lead, though, and cut it to 12 on an Owens three after Moss fouled out. The Cards would finally cut the lead to single digits on two Chris Williams free throws with 5:57 left, and another Owens three 30 seconds later cut the Falcon lead to 69-64. The proverbial dagger came with just under four minutes left and BG up only six, as Eyink, with the shot clock winding down, hit a three from nearly 25 feet away to put BG back up by nine.

The Falcons went 30-35 from the line in the second half to ice the win, and their 37 free throws made and 43 attempted both set MAC tournament records. Lewis led BG with 28, while Netter scored 19 and Reimold 10. Reimold and Lewis both grabbed eight rebounds. Magner scored nine on three three-point field goals, while Moss tallied eight.

“We talked after the Toledo game about guys off the bench increasing our play,” Dakich said. “I thought against Toledo that Keon [Newson] did that, but no one else did. And tonight, without the contributions from Cole and Raheem. … They played confident, fearless and tough.”

Owens had 28 for the hosts, and Williams scored all 24 of his points in the second half. He shot just 5-18 from the field, as the Cardinals shot just 35.6 percent as a team, compared to 52.4 for BG.

There were a total of 61 fouls called, and 78 free throws attempted in the game.

The Falcons now take on Central Michigan Thursday night at 7 p.m., the third of four quarterfinal round games.