The first half against Kentucky was all well and good, and more than fun to watch, but it's games like tonight against the UT-Arlington Mavericks that UB's Men's Basketball team needs to win.
Tonight, the Bulls headed into the Central Time Zone and far, far away from the snow in western New York and pulled away midway through the second to a 74-68 victory after a wild, back and forth first half that saw the Bulls take a 35-31 lead into the break.
Fast and loose start:. In the short term, it was a great start for the Bulls, who raced out to an 8-0 and 10-3 lead. Extend it a little longer, though, and you see the downfall of the uptempo style. There was barely time to breathe in the first 12 or so minutes, and the two teams played to a number of ties and lead changes.
In particular, UB was undone by far too many turnovers, handing the ball away EIGHT times in the first ten minutes. Add in a sub-40 shooting percentage throughout that dropped all the way to 32%. Despite owning the boards, UB did everything else to keep it close with a team just that was more than willing to run with them.
Free throws: UB hit the double-bonus with three to play, but made great use of their opportunities from the line throughout the first half, hitting four during those final three on their way to 13-14 from the line in the half. In a close game, as this was, those points are so critical, and UB hasn't often had teams than can go 13-14 in the last few years.
Will Regan: There are valid reasons to be concerned about Regan's ability to carry the team, especially when he's not hitting from distance. Happily today, the senior tied for the team lead at the half with 10 points, six coming on UB's only two three pointers, the second coming in response to a Maverick three that gave UTA the lead in the final minute of the half.
But Justin Moss: After earning MAC East Player of the Week honors for his performances against South Dakota State and Kentucky, Moss scored the first points of the game and looked to be on his way to a big game, but played only six minutes in the first half and was limited to those 2 points thanks to a pair of fouls.
At the Half
As I said, UB was great from the line, shooting 13-14, but bad from everywhere else: 2-12 from distance and just 32% from the floor. The Bulls finished the half with 10 turnovers, though only two came in the second ten minutes, and dominated the boards 25-17.
Evans and Regan led the Bulls with 10 points apiece in the second.
Three Pointers: In the first half it was all Regan, but Buffalo got clutch threes from Evans and Jarryn Skeete in the first eight minutes to help them along. Meanwhile Regan hit another, and UB doubled their first-half production from distance in the first eight minutes to help build a lead that was at times eight or nine points.
Still a freshman: Lamonte Bearden has been more than impressive in his first few Division 1 games, and led the Bulls with 6 boards at halftime today. But as we sometimes saw Shannon Evans have rough days from the floor in 2013-14, tonight was a reminder that Lamonte is a freshman. He hit two freethrows early in the second half, but hit four fouls rather quickly and sat on 8 points, 6 boards, and the bench.
Finally: I hoped that UB would find an advantage somewhere in the second half. Without knowing anything about the Mavericks, I'd like to believe that a Bobby Hurley-coached team would enjoy a fitness advantage, and UTA seemed dangerously willing to run with the Bulls early. Other than a small push, that's exactly what happened in the middle ten minutes of the second half.
Jarryn Skeete's first three gave UB a 48-39 lead, and Bulls were able to maintain a multiple-possession lead into the under-8 timeout as Skeete joined Evans and Regan in double-digits. A Justin Moss layup gave the Bulls a ten point lead and forced a UTA timeout.
The Mavericks fought back, but were undone by pitiful free-throw shooting: with five to play the hosts were shooting just 4-11 from the line. UB got back up to ten thanks to another three from Skeete, no thanks to a number of turnovers from Moss and Evans: UB had 17 with five to go. Moments later, however, Evans hit a three to build the lead to 15 and force a timeout, and that was that.
One big negative: With a minute to play, all of UB's points had come from just six players. I didn't note who the starters were, but regardless, Rodell Wigginton and Raheem Johnson didn't make much noise and it was all starters for the Bulls today. It's nice to see a shorter bench run a whole game, but bench scoring is also good.
Late Free Throws/Composure: The Mavericks somehow were within two possessions with 35 seconds to play, and Skeete was bailed out by a quick Bobby Hurley timeout on the ensuing inbounds. Evans hit two free throws, only for Ford to miss two of his own seconds later. I can't argue too much, but it shouldn't have been that close at the end, and you'd like to see Ford get at least one of those two.
UB finished 8-23 from distance, going over 50% in the second half.
Shannon Evans got to 24 points; a career-high for the sophomore, and he did it on 50% shooting from the floor. Three other Bulls hit double-digits.
Just 9 assists to 18 turnovers for UB. That will bite them when playing a team that can actually capitalize on mistakes
The Bulls next play Friday, returning home to host Montana State in their third game of the Cawood Ledford Classic. The Bobcats have lost big to UCLA and less big, but still soundly, to Grand Canyon to open their season. Tipoff in Alumni is at 7:00 PM.