Bowling Green’s Jehvon Clarke drives to the basket against Northern Illinois. Clarke led the Falcons with 15 points.
DeKALB, Ill. — The Bowling Green State University men’s basketball team went down swinging.
The Falcons pushed Northern Illinois to overtime in their Mid-American Conference tournament first-round contest Monday before suffering a 54-51 loss at the Convocation Center.
It marked the seventh MAC loss by three points or less for the Falcons, who finished the season 12-20 in what could be Louis Orr’s final game as BG coach.
“These guys have been a resilient team,” Orr said in an emotional postgame news conference. “We have have some close and tough games where we came up just short.
“But these guys kept playing.”
Jehvon Clarke scored 15 points, Richaun Holmes posted a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, and Cameron Black nearly had a double-double in his final college game, posting 10 points and nine boards.
Jordan Threloff scored 13 points while Aaric Armstead had 12 for Northern Illinois (15-16), which will face Eastern Michigan in a second-round MAC tournament game Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Bowling Green needed a little luck to reach overtime, hitting a 3-pointer at the end of regulation. That play began when Holmes took a 3 that bounced high off the rim, but Black tipped the ball back to Clarke, who buried the 3 with just 1.5 seconds to play.
“It was a big shot, and after that shot, I thought we were in a good position to win [the game],” Clarke said. “It gave us a shot of adrenaline and momentum in overtime.
“But we just couldn’t capitalize in overtime and make the necessary plays to win in overtime.”
Northern Illinois threw an inbounds pass that was untouched as it went out of bounds, giving BG the ball under its basket, but Holmes wasn’t able to get a good shot off at the final buzzer.
In overtime the Falcons, seeded 10th in the tournament, saw the seventh-seeded Huskies score the first four points. NIU’s Darrell Bowie stole a pass and made a layup with 4 minutes, 2 seconds left, and after another BG turnover Threloff tipped in a missed 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 53-49 lead with 3:05 to play.
Clarke made a layup on Bowling Green’s next possession, but the Falcons did not score again, turning the ball over twice more and missing two 3-pointers.
BG finished with 22 turnovers, and the Huskies turned that into 27 points.
It was a difficult finish to a game that saw Bowling Green get off to a slow start.
After the Falcons scored the game’s first basket on a layup by Anthony Henderson, Northern Illinois scored the next 10 points during a span of four minutes and did not trail the rest of the half.
Bowling Green cut the Huskies’ lead to 22-18 thanks to a five-point run by Craig Sealey, but Northern Illinois led 30-26 at halftime.
Bowling Green started the second half on an 8-4 run, with Black scoring six of those points to tie the game at 34-34. The Falcons followed with a 7-4 run that gave them a 44-39 lead with 6:34 left in regulation.
But a 3-pointer by Armstead with 3:45 to play tied the game at 46-46, setting up the exciting finish to regulation.
Bowling Green also was hampered by poor free-throw shooting, making just 6 of 11 (54.5 percent), but Northern Illinois connected on just 8 of 17 free throws (47.1 percent).
“We haven’t been a good free-throw shooting team all year, but Northern Illinois missed some free throws, too,” Orr said. “You have to keep on playing.
“I give Jehvon credit: He missed some free throws in the second half, but he came back and made a big 3.”
After the game Orr, who is in the final year of his contract, started to look back on his time at BG.
“I’m thanking for the opportunities Bowling Green has given me,” Orr said. “I’m thankful for the great group of guys that have played for me in the seven years I’ve coached here.
“And I’m thankful for the community, whatever their feelings were for me. For them coming to the games and supporting these young guys, [I’m thankful].”
NOTES: Sealey finished with seven points and one rebound in his final college contest. … Holmes blocked two shots in the contest and now has 161 career blocks, giving him the school record in that category.