David Briggs: Hey, Bowling Green basketball, where have you been?

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David Briggs, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·5 min read
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Feb. 14—It was a lost-and-found kind of afternoon Saturday at Savage Arena.

Toledo, where did you go?

And Bowling Green? Where have you been?

Just when the Falcons' season of promise appeared so far off course that it was a borderline miracle their bus even made it to Toledo — Calculating route to Toledo ... Spain — the visitors did not just show up.

They walloped Toledo as resoundingly as the Rockets beat up on them (and pretty much everyone else) earlier in the season.

In an 88-81 victory in which they led by as many as 16 points, here finally was the Falcons team we all expected this year.

The one that was the odds-on favorite to win the Mid-American Conference but appeared gone for good after six straight league losses.

For one day, it all came together.

The senior stars — Justin Turner (21 points) and Daeqwon Plowden (22 points) — played like stars. Trey Diggs (17 points) splashed in shots from multiple zip codes. And everyone brought the energy befitting of a last hoops stand.

It was as if Bowling Green (11-9, 7-7 MAC) undammed a month's worth of frustration and, in doing so, found a degree of joy it was not sure would return.

When freshman guard Kaden Metheny hit a long 3 in transition to put the Falcons ahead 67-55 — the dagger in a late 21-3 run — the bench exploded and a weight lifted.

"We needed this in the worst way," BG coach Michael Huger said. "You need that injection. That shot in the arm to get you back motivated, to get you back hungry to doing the things that you are capable of doing. Hopefully, this is the thing that jump starts us to get us going."

Toledo, meanwhile, hopes its second straight loss is not the thing that stalls the engine.

I wouldn't go there ... yet.

If its defeat at Ball State was an all-around clunker, this encore had a different feel. Toledo played good team ball, finishing with 16 assists. The problem: It couldn't buy a 3-pointer — UT was 11 of 38 from beyond the arc — against a good team (on paper) that played great.

"A big part of this was Bowling Green played really, really well," Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said.

It's easy in the moment to dismiss Toledo as a team that too easily dies by the 3, but, remember, they mostly live well by it. It was just last week the Rockets (16-6, 11-3) were on the fringe of the AP Top 25 poll and sixth nationally in offensive efficiency.

Nothing is broken on a well-fitting team in which all seven players in the rotation are deep threats and four of them are hitting at least 40 percent of their 3s.

Odds are there won't be many more off nights. I suppose we'll see.

Just as we'll see how Bowling Green responds to its first victory in the Biden Administration.

Is this too little, too late? Or is it possible the Falcons just saved their season?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Relatively, Bowling Green remains one of the biggest mysteries in the country.

Think back to the preseason poll, when the Falcons were the runaway favorite to win the league.

And why not? They returned four of their top five players from a team that nearly won the conference regular-season title last year, including Turner — the school's all-time leading scorer — and the all-league Plowden.

That didn't guarantee success, of course.

As oracles go, the coaches and media members who vote in the preseason poll are not quite Punxsutawney Phil.

Since 2005, the early favorite has gone on to win the league tournament just twice: Kent State in 2008 and Buffalo in 2019.

Still, the voters aren't taking drunken shots in the dark, either. Every favorite in that span finished with a winning conference record.

Which is to again say I have no idea what is wrong with Bowling Green.

Check that. We know what's wrong. Too much individual ball on offense (the Falcons assist on 46 percent of their field goals, which ranks 246th nationally). Too little of anything on defense.

I have no idea why it's gone so wrong.

One possibility is simply the disorienting whims of a pandemic that affects every team and individual differently.

This isn't to make an excuse, but it's easy to see that Huger isn't messing around with the coronavirus.

Where most coaches treat their masks as an irritant, ripping it off for important matters such as screaming in the face of officials, Huger's has not left his face all year. As added precautions, he now wears gloves and glasses, too.

Huger is being as careful as possible, and it made me wonder what I asked him Saturday: Personally, are you comfortable having this season?

"Personally, I was fine with whatever the NCAA was doing," he said. "If we didn't play, I was fine with that. If we did play, I was fine with that. ... It's a difficult situation for the world, and we can all shut down or not do anything or we can try to find a way to live with the coronavirus. I mean, it's here. It's not going anywhere. Now we've got to try to figure out a way to live with it.

"I feel more for the guys because it's not a typical college life. They can't go out, they can't hang out. They've got to always stay separated and stick with just the basketball team. Our guys have been fortunate so far that we haven't had any cases and are still playing. We're the ones moving all over the place to accommodate everyone else."

The reward for it all is days like Saturday.

Finally.

"That was a lot of fun," Huger said.