Saturday afternoon was a tale of two halves for UB, as the first 20 showed up the team that can lose to anyone in the conference, and the second showed the team that no one can stop and has Bulls fans exciting with just a week to go before the MAC Tournament.
After trailing 30-28 at the half, UB left scorch marks all over Alumni, doubling up Miami 50-25 in the second half en route to a 78-55 win.
Lineup Issues - If you thought Kent had trouble with Javon McCrea, Miami's small lineup certainly seemed like it wouldn't be able to contend with UB's size up front. The Redhawks started four guards and transfer Will Felder, who stands only 6'7". I say only, and 6'7" is also close to McCrea's height, but UB has had little trouble with taller forwards in the MAC like Ndour and Whittington.
Own The Boards - As you might guess from the guard-heavy lineup, Miami is the worst offensive rebounding team in the MAC, and early on UB was effective at limiting second chances and used their advantage on the boards to overcome below average shooting in the early going.
At the first media timeout UB held a 9-7 lead on the strength of 6-2 rebounding advantage having gotten four more shots than the visitors. The Bulls also notched their fifth offensive rebound within the first six minutes of play. That's a good way to get points.
Turnovers & Free Throws - UB came into the came on a pretty good run of protecting the ball, averaging just 9 turnovers per game in their last three games, all wins. As you might expect, however, Miami overcomes their lack of forward depth by implementing an aggressive full court press followed by double teaming the ball carrier as soon as he gets over the time line, and the Redhawks lead the conference in steals.
After a 7-0 UB run to make it 16-9, Miami fought back to within 18-17, at which point the visitors had forced 9 UB turnovers on 6 steals. Jarod Oldham and Javon McCrea both took their second fouls and ultimately the Miami run ballooned to 18-4 an a 27-20 lead.
In addition to forcing a ton of turnovers, Miami is also top 20 team nationally in free throw shooting. At the time of their largest lead, they were 7 of 8 from FTs at 15 minutes.
UB Drought and Bounceback
After that, though, momentum flipped back to the home guys. Despite arguably being the more composed of the two coaches in the first half, Bobby Hurley was called for a technical, only for Miami shockingly to miss both shots. The classic UB scoring drought - which stretched for 6 minutes of game time today - ended on a offensive rebound and score, after which Jarry Skeete and Justin Moss helped spurt an eight point run to retake the lead in the final minute.
Skeete in particular had the crowd rocking after blocking a layup attempt of Miami's 7 foot forward with under 30 seconds to go. Unfortunately, UB rushed the ensuing offensive possession instead of playing for the last shot, and Miami was able to drain a three to retake the lead heading into the locker room
Stats at the Half: McCrea 7 boards 4 points, Regan 4 boards, 7 points.
Senior Leadership - The story of the first six minutes or so after the break was UB's two guys who had to sit with foul trouble in the first half. It felt like every time something good happened early on, it was either Jarod Oldham or Javon McCrea. Despite picking up his third foul on the offensive end pretty much immediately after the opening whistle, Oldham stayed in and he and Javon carried play for UB into the 14 minute mark, when a JO three and subsequent BLOCK on defense helped the Bulls hold a 39-25 lead.
Questionable Strategy From Miami - At this point we all got a glimpse of just how valuable Javon McCrea can be even off the ball. Trailing by only to possessions with tons of time left, Miami sold out on collapsing down to McCrea in an attempt to force a third foul from the senior forward. But what this really did was take the suffocating ball pressure off the UB guards and let the ball move around the backcourt more. With that breathing room, Buffalo took better care of the ball and started to turn the screws on Miami.
Freelove - Specifically, it was senior transfer Josh Freelove who made them pay. A personal 8-0 run courtesy of two triples capped a 12-3 Buffalo spurt and forced a Miami timeout with 13:44 left. And he wasn't even close to done.
Josh Freelove is TURNT UP and the Bulls have a couple possession lead as we had into the last 10 minutes— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) March 1, 2014
Per the radio broadcast, 21st time in 26 games Freelove has hit double figures— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) March 1, 2014
The fifth year senior just never slowed down. My notes reference several points where a Freelove bucket at such and such a time gave UB such and such a lead, but all you need to know is Josh poured in 21 points in the second half, nearly outscoring Miami on his own, en route to 24 points on 5 of 8 shooting from three.
Those 24 points are a season high for Freelove.
Strong D - It would be a mistake to overlook UB's strong defense throughout the second as well. Miami did not shoot well from the line throughout the game, but got almost no chances in the second half. At the under-8 media timeout, UB was already into the one and one bonus, but had only committed 3 fouls themselves.
It's a Party - Then things just got silly. After Freelove, there really isn't a story of the game, as the Bulls really spread the love and everyone put up numbers on the statsheet. A Regan three over the seven footer over Jon Hawkins made it 60-48 Shannon Evans followed that up with two very impressive drives to the bucket. Some more from Freelove and a converted and-one from McCrea constituted a 14-0 in just 2:27.
All told, UB shot 68% (17-25) in the second half to turn a ugly opening stanza into a laugher.
UB next travels to face Akron on the road on Tuesday. The margin of error for Akron and Ohio to pass UB for the 3 and 4 seeds is quite slim, but UB needs to keep rolling to snag a top 2 entry and triple bye into the conference semifinals.
We'll have updated standings and rooting interests for the final week up later tonight when the rest of the conference finishes their games. Go Bulls!