The city of Bowling Green is the state of Kentucky's third largest city. It serves as the home of Western Kentucky University and Corvettes (all made here), while serving as the chief destination for Mammoth Cave National Park tourists when they get a hankering for Cracker Barrel or Olive Garden. So, when conversing about hoops in Kentucky, "Bowling Green" first conjures up the WKU Hilltoppers, and secondly the color purple (not Alice Walker's book, mind you, but the city high school's mascot is simply the "Purples"). Therefore, welcoming Ohio's Bowling Green Falcons (orange and brown, huh?) to Bowling Green, Kentucky, created a bit of cognitive dissonance. They are not red and white. They are not purple. They do not make Corvettes. And, they probably order wheat toast instead of biscuits at Cracker Barrel. What to make of this "other" Bowling Green?
Well, for starters, BGSU was a pretty bad basketball team last year. A mediocre Topper team went into BGSU last year, committed 29 turnovers (not a typo), and still managed to slip by the Falcons. This preseason, Louis Orr's team was picked to finish dead last by the MAC coaches. However, BGSU came into WKU's Diddle Arena tonight sporting a 4-2 record with not-so-criminal losses to Georgia and George Washington and fresh off a monster win over NCAA perennial Temple last weekend. The very young Hilltoppers (2-6) again found themselves playing a home game that they were not expected to win, while still feeling the sting of two consecutive home losses to midmajority stalwarts VCU and Murray State.
While this less-than-stellar start has negatively impacted attendance this season, the Tops' struggles shall not deter my family from their appointed rounds to Diddle Arena, nor affect a tradition I have established with my son. The entrance we use to access our seats takes us by a giant black-and-white image of legendary WKU coach Ed Diddle, who reigned as the all-time leader in NCAA basketball wins upon his retirement in 1964. Diddle is holding a basketball in the photo, so my four year old and I rub Ed Diddle's ball upon entering the arena before every game. There is a #ballz and/or Bally joke in there somewhere.
BGSU's reputation (and statistical profile) is built on turnovers. They force a lot and do not commit many, which affords them significantly more scoring chances than their opponents. That would be borne out on this night as the Falcons flustered the Toppers into 21 turnovers (28% TORate!) while committing 14, achieving a healthy advantage in that department. However, the extremely young WKU club (true freshmen played 65.5% of the minutes tonight) found something they had not unearthed all season: a shooting eye. The Tops scorched the nets to the tune of 61% in the first half, building a 12-point halftime lead that would balloon to 18 early in the second half built largely on the back of Bowling Green, Kentucky (of course! Tonight was all about the Bowling Greens!), native forward George Fant (one of those true freshmen). But, as freshmen-laden teams are wont to do, WKU wilted as the more experienced Falcons cranked up the defense and WKU backed up that 61% first half shooting with a retina-scarring 18.2% second half. This allowed BGSU to come all the way back and tie the game late.
But, instead of completing an historic el foldo, the Toppers clamped down on defense, cleaned the boards, and made some free throws late to claim the title of Best Division I Basketball Bowling Green for the second straight year. While #TeamReset has a long road ahead, this win was vital as they embark on a two-game road swing this week. As for BGSU, they have to figure out how they allowed WKU to race to an 18-point lead, but can take away some positives from a very determined comeback. The Falcons have some nice pieces on their squad, include quicksilver point guard Jordan Crawford, and will likely be much better than preseason prognostications suggested.
at WESTERN KENTUCKY 60, BOWLING GREEN 53 12/04/2011
BOWLING GREEN 4-3 (0-0) -- D. Williams 8-18 4-4 21; J. Crawford 3-13 1-2 7; S. Thomas 6-10 3-3 16; L. Kraus 2-6 2-2 7; A. Calhoun 4-16 2-2 11; C. Black 2-5 0-1 4; D. Brown 1-4 0-0 2; C. Sealey 1-5 0-0 2; J. Erger 1-3 0-2 2; T. Oglesby 1-1 0-0 2; C. Orr 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-63 8-12 53. WESTERN KENTUCKY 3-6 (0-0) -- G. Fant 5-6 3-7 13; T. Price 0-5 5-5 5; K. McDonald 1-6 4-4 7; T. Akol 2-6 4-4 9; K. Kaspar 2-7 0-0 5; D. Gordon 2-6 4-6 8; N. Snipes 1-2 0-0 2; V. Zollo 2-3 0-0 4; J. Crook 1-2 1-3 3; K. Anyigbo 2-2 0-2 4; O. Akamune 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 21-31 60.
Three-point goals: BGSU 3-11 (S. Thomas 1-2; A. Calhoun 1-2; J. Crawford 0-2; L. Kraus 1-3; J. Erger 0-1; D. Brown 0-1), WKU 3-18 (T. Akol 1-2; K. McDonald 1-6; D. Gordon 0-2; K. Kaspar 1-4; T. Price 0-2; N. Snipes 0-1; V. Zollo 0-1); Rebounds: BGSU 32 (S. Thomas 8), WKU 38 (T. Akol 8); Assists: BGSU 10 (J. Crawford 3), WKU 11 (J. Crook 3); Total Fouls -- BGSU 22, WKU 16; Fouled Out: BGSU-A. Calhoun; WKU-None.