CLEVELAND- Bowling Green built a 23-point halftime lead but later had to hold on for dear life as the Falcons edged Northern Illinois 68-65 Friday.
With the win, BGSU (22-11) advances to meet top-seeded Buffalo for the 2019 MAC tournament championship (7:30 p.m., ESPN2). Each team won on its home court in their two regular season meetings, and the Falcons were the last team to hang a loss on what is currently the nation’s No. 18 team. Buffalo has won 11 straight since that Feb. 1 (92-88) setback.
While the Bulls have reached the title game for the fourth time in five years, this is the Bowling Green’s first championship game appearance since 2002.
“We got some stops when we needed to.” Falcons head coach Michael Huger said. We did a very good job of sticking together. (We) got a couple of stops at the end, and that was the difference in the game for us.”
Junior guard Dylan Frye led BGSU with 25 points, going four-of-eight from three point range. Sophomore Justin Turner added 15 with three rebounds, two assists and a steal, while fellow soph Daequon Plowden had 12 with eight boards.
Northern Illinois (17-17) reached the semifinals for the first time since 2003 after tournament wins over Ohio and Western Division champion Toledo in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Eugene German helped the Huskies mount a massive second half comeback as he led all scorers in the contest with 31 points. The junior hit 12-of-18 from the floor, adding five assists, four rebounds and two steals. Senior Levi Bradley owned 16 points and five boards.
The Falcons took control over the final seven minutes of the first half when they went on a 22-2 run to take a 46-23 lead. BGSU shot a sizzling 60.7 percent from the field (27-of-28), including 6-of-10 from three-point range.
Early in the second half, NIU used an 18-2 run to get back into the game. German scored in every way possible as the Huskies closed their deficit to seven, 48-41, with 13:13 remaining.
The Falcons could not stop the Huskies momentum as NIU came all the way back to tie the score on two occasions, the last being 58-58 with 3:29 remaining on a left wing jumper by Bradley.
BGSU then managed to regroup and put together a 7-0 run to take a 65-58 lead with 2:12 remaining. NIU continued to pressure, closing to three, 70-67, on an uncontested layup by German with eight seconds remaining.
The key down the stretch was Frye hitting his seven free throws in to end Northern Illinois’ challenge.