Central combo does in men’s squad

By Erik Cassano

Sports Reporter

CLEVELAND — Central Michigan’s basketball team isn’t a one-man show. You don’t get to be the first seed in the Mid-American Conference tournament by being that. Chris Kaman just makes them look that way.

The 7’0″ junior center may be the most dominant big man in the conference since Nate Thurmond patrolled the paint for Bowling Green in the early ’60s. Scuttlebutt has had him coming out of college a year early to join the NBA or becoming a lottery pick after next year.

Any or none of the above may happen. That doesn’t matter right now, at least to the BG basketball team, back home now with their season over.

Kaman was an unscalable wall in BG’s 87-70 loss to the Chippewas in the MAC tournament quarterfinals at Gund Arena last night. He scored 25 points, demonstrating on a few occasions his quick pivot step and ability to stuff the ball home with either hand. He owned the boards at both ends of the floor with 14 rebounds, six offensive, and tossed in three emphatic blocks for good measure.

“I love Kaman, how he plays. I hope he stays in [college],” BG coach Dan Dakich said. “It is good for our league, fun to play against good players.”

But to call Kaman the sole reason BG lost would overlook a host of other problems that played into the Falcons’ demise. Kaman was indeed a wall for BG, but there were other hurdles, some of them only visible by looking in a mirror.

Kaman is surrounded by a small but pesky team. From the opening tip, the Chippewas were buzzing around the court, in the faces of BG at the offensive end, hounding whoever had the ball. Central Michigan didn’t handle the ball with kid gloves themselves, with 15 turnovers, but pressured a BG team that usually strives to take care of the ball into 19 turnovers. J.R. Wallace had six steals, Tony Bowne three.

“It was a bit like dripping water,” Dakich said. “Just constant, constant pressure on defense [by Central].”

The Falcons helped Kaman by letting the teeth get knocked out of what remains of their frontcourt. At halftime, both Kevin Netter and Cory Eyink had three fouls, putting them on the bench for the start of the second half. When Dakich put them in, they promptly finished the job, both fouling out with over five minutes to play. The waning moments of the game gave the forgettable sight of 6’5″ Cory Ryan with his forearm to Kaman’s back in the low post. Somebody had to guard him, and with no Netter or Eyink, apparently Ryan drew the short straw.

At one point in the second half, BG had a quintet of Ryan, John Reimold, Raheem Moss, Ron Lewis and Cole Magner on the floor. Essentially five guards. Reimold was the tallest at 6’6″. The Falcons have had a case of raw nerves in the second half of the season. Depletion by injuries and foul trouble will do that sometimes.

Against Central, BG’s patience was tested one last time. Ryan was nailed with a technical foul for an undisclosed reason in the second half. The Falcon bench got another later in the half when Dakich lost his temper after a perceived non-call on a three-second violation against Kaman.

Dakich tossed his coat, getting a reaction from the Central crowd. Dakich didn’t have an answer for Central, and doesn’t think there might have been one for his team right now.

“For our basketball team, this is probably the one team in the conference we don’t match up with,” he said. “I knew this was a difficult match-up.”

Matching up against any team has been difficult for BG, finishing the season with six scholarship players active. With the way they played much of the final six weeks of the season, it is a triumph in itself that BG made it to Cleveland. But you probably can’t tell that to the players who have to wait nearly nine months to wash the taste of this defeat out of their mouths.

Reimold was listless and drained at the postgame news conference. Twenty points and 5-for-9 from beyond the arc didn’t brighten his mood.

“That’s two of us he doesn’t listen to,” Dakich said with a laugh after a reporter had to repeat a question to Reimold.

Dakich was only trying to have some fun with his team, buoy their spirits after a long, hard season. The kind of season players didn’t know they were signing on for when they decided to play college basketball. Somehow, nine guys and a coaching staff got enough energy and resolve to get to Cleveland. But fumes make bad fuel, and every mistake can be the one that ends your season.

“Our ratty-ass team has been battling all year long, in every situation,” Dakich said. “I got a kick out of this team, out there battling their brains out. We finished the season with three games in five days, not one guy complaining about being tired. They just left it all out on the floor.

“That’s what makes college basketball so great.”