Buffalo fought back from a mostly McCrea-less first half to take a slight lead in the second and hold on in a close, low-scoring game.
I know that we've had some quick starts to games this season, but days like today sure feel more like the norm than not. Both teams got off to a slow start, as at the under-16 it was 5-3 Buffalo thanks to consecutive buckets by Regan and Moss on the Bulls last two possessions. To add insult to injury, Javon McCrea racked up 2 quick fouls before the first media timeout. It remained slow through the first half - only 11-11 at the under-12.
Justin Moss & Xavier Ford
Without McCrea for much of the first half, UB had to turn to the bench to compliement Will Regan in the post. Both Justin Moss and Xavier Ford played well, especially on defense to bridge the gap. On UB's first two possessions with Moss on the floor the Sophomore scored three points and drew a foul. Sunday would ultimately be Moss' best game of the season, as he finished with 5 points and 6 boards in 9 minutes, mostly in the first half while McCrea was forced to sit.
Similarly, Xavier Ford's emergence has been the surprise of the season for UB. Ford didn't light up the world in the first half, but scored a couple buckets, drew a foul, and got a block, all while not turning it over and helping a shorthanded defense keep the game within reach at the half.
Rebounding without Javon
It's safe to say that early season concerns about Will Regan fitting into Coach Hurley's system were a bit overblown. Without Javon we got to see just how valuable Regan is to this team, as the Bulls clearly struggled on the boards when the forward was sitting, and Drexel seemed to be caught off guard by the senior's motor, as Regan seemed to have perfect position on several consecutive misses as the Dragons threatened to pull away. UB would finish with a 46-40 edge on the boards, thanks to a strong second half, but in the first half it was all Regan for the Bulls.
Offense out of Sync
Ultimately the first half felt too much like the stretches of 8-12 minutes of stupor that past UB teams would suffer from. There were lots of badly shot threes and little dribble penetration, and as a result, many of UB's early possessions were one-and-done as the Bulls struggled to find a rhythm. Hurley was forced to put McCrea back in with two fouls with the team down eight, and while Javon did pick up his third, UB was able to fight back to within four and was lucky to be down only 24-20 at the half.
Interlude: Bisons v Bulls
I know that I have been spoiled in my lifetime with quality broadcasting teams. From Van Miller and John Murphy for the Bills, to Rick Jeanneret for the Sabres, to even Jim Rosenhaus for the Bisons in the late 90s, I've always been able to know exactly what's going on in the game and get a good, professional, if slightly homer, look at the sport. (Though RJ has noticeably slipped in the last few years.) Josh Whetzel and Paul Peck for UB similarly provide a quality broadcast for Bulls fans.
Drexel's team, on the other hand, called UB the "Bison" for the first 15 minutes of the game, and then when corrected pronounced "Bison is a better nickname anyway." Now I'm not going to get all upset about some homerism - because, again, I've grown up with Rick Jeanneret, and there was some pretty Drexel-centric commentary today - but this was not the best broadcast I've ever seen. You have got to know who you're playing!
McCrea Drawing Fouls & Making them Pay
Think Javon was excited to get on the floor after the break? The first few minutes of the second half were the Javon McCrea show, as the senior poured in a couple baskets, drew three fouls, and grabbed a handful of boards all before the first media timeout. His performance had the broadcasters complaining about the refs, and throughout the second half the only way Drexel was able to stop McCrea was by forcing bad passes and keeping the ball from getting to him in the first place.
Drexel is a much better team than Binghamton, but this is two games in a row now that Javon has come out of the break hot. I'd love to see that become a trend.
Dragons into a Zone
Just moments after the DrexelTV guys were talking up the moral superiority of their coach never playing anything "fancy" or "tricky", Drexel went into the patented UB-Killer: the zone defense. Unsurprisingly, UB's first possession against the zone saw Freelove shoot a three point attempt well past the rim.
Three Point Shooting
That said, UB actually forced Drexel to abandon the zone! At one point in the second half, the teams had combined to shoot 2-19 from three. (UB's make was a very early shot from Will Regan). However, while the numbers by the end still looked terrible, UB was able to heat up a bit to get some shots from Evans and Skeete to open up some space inside and help control the late minutes of the game after Drexel had held a narrow lead throughout the first three-quarters of the game.
Late Game Play
With UB holding on to a one-possession lead in the last ninety seconds, I couldn't have been the only Bulls fan fearing a repeat of the Meltdown in Manhattan. A bad inbounds pass, and a missed FT from Freelove got the crowd going, but a strong defensive rebounding and smart, safe play on offense to avoid turnovers, not force a shot, and eat clock went perfectly other than that UB didn't get points on the board. Freelove had the offensive rebound , but couldn't pull it down inbounds, UB forced a travel, and we went into Hit your FTs! time. Unfortunately, too many misses gave Drexel a chance to win with a three, which happily for UB clanged wide for Freelove to reign in. It's not nearly as disastrous as Manhattan, and nice to see UB hold onto a lead they fought so hard for over the first 35 minutes, but there's still a feeling that it shouldn't have been that tight at the end.
I cannot say enough good things about Javon McCrea in this game. He really was unstoppable in the second half, scoring 16 of his 20 points after the break and finishing with 9 boards, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, and at least a half-dozen complaints from the Drexel TV guys. PLUS. He finished 4-5 from the line on a day when UB only shot 9-17 on free throws.
Pro Tip for Bobby: Practice Free Throws, please.
Stat of the Game: 3 point shooting, especially in the second half. Drexel finished with only one made three on the afternoon on fourteen attempts.
The Bulls next play January 3rd against South Dakota State at 7:00 PM in Alumni Arena in their last OOC game before heading into MAC play.