Even before their furious comeback ten days ago that fell just short against UB, the Miami Redhawks were both on an uptick overall and had established themselves as a second-half team. Today, the visitors were never as far down and saved the run for later, but once again fell short in a 77-68 loss.
It's been a long while since the Bulls had a close game at Alumni Arena, and it got very tight late, but the dagger came on a 6-0 run from forwards Xavier Ford and Justin Moss with 6 minutes to play that built an 11 point lead that just barely held up. A critical energy guy off the bench all year, Ford was simply the difference maker in this game, with 13 points, 8 rebounds, and too many highlight hustle plays to count. Will Sullivan's 14 and 11 double-double lead Miami, though no Redhawk was particularly effective after halftime until the late flurry.
Bobby Hurley seemed to work his lineup early in anticipation of Miami's second half strength, giving much more balanced minutes than usual to reserves Ford, Rodell Wigginton, and Raheem Johnson. This limited Miami's inside game, but UB was also unable to find rhythm offensively, missing all 12 shots from distance and never finding the fast break. Furthermore, UB was below their average from the line - especially on the front end of one-and-ones - converting 27 of 38 opportunities.
Make no mistake, though, this was an encouraging win for the Bulls because it came so uncharacteristically. Even with half the offense MIA, UB was able to continue to execute in the paint and clamp down on defense. Both Justin Moss, spectacular only in his steadiness, and Shannon Evans, beset by fouls, were quietly productive in topping their conference-leading scoring averages. Moss had a career-high 31 points and 15 rebounds - 22 and 10 in the second half alone - while Evans got to 15 on the strength of 9 points from the line. And yet, Ford was the star of the game to my eyes.
Miami a 32-29 lead at the break after the back-and-forth first half saw dueling strengths, as Buffalo earned 14 of their 29 points from the paint, while Miami shot 6-12 from distance. The only major discrepancy was on the foul line, where the visitors were called 10 times to UB's 3, but in general the referees let a number of rough plays go unwhistled. Though UB had 8 assists on 9 field goals before the break, but had also missed a few front ends of one-and-ones and were clearly not in their usual groove, with only 4 fast break points.
Whether by Hurley's design, or just the whims of the basketball gods, the Bulls did indeed hold the advantage out of the break, clamping down defensively. Justin Moss started to take over and UB held Miami scoreless for 6:29 during an 11-0 run finally broken by a pair of Eric Washington free throws.
The critical run came after a short period of Miami momentum built on a few fouls, turnovers, and missed shots that helped the visitors draw within 3, before Ford's tip in took the lead to 11. The final minutes kept the game very much in doubt, partly because of the free throw shooting, but UB brought that lead home to move to 3-1 in the MAC.
Buffalo remains unbeaten at home in 2014-15 at 6-0, and are now 19-1 in Alumni Arena since the start of last season.
Like the women's basketball team, UB now hits the road for a Wednesday game, when the Bulls will take on Central Michigan at 7:00 PM in a test for the Buffalo defense; CMU shot 19-27 from three against these same Miami Redhawks and has racked up the points in several games this year, albeit against sometimes questionable levels of competition.