First and foremost, I like wins. Every team, every season, has a handful of wins that shouldn't have been that close, that expose weaknesses for fans to dwell on instead of enjoying another win. And that's fine, but they're still wins.
Last night we got a pair of wins from UB's pair of teams. Neither *needs* to win out to work their way into the top four of the MAC Tournament, but both of these games were must-wins for that end. It's a bit of a surprise, though, that the close win came at home from the women over one of the conference's worst, while the bigger, more comfortable victory came from the men on the road against a similarly middling team. But at the end of the day, two wins are two wins.
I feel like the takeaways are losing momentum late in the season; we know what the teams need to do well to win and we know the regular pitfalls that end in losses. So rather than learning more, here were the biggest surprises from yesterday.
Men's Tennis Coach Nails Nickell
Other than just a few minutes in each game, I didn't find last night all that entertaining. The best moment came at halftime of the women's game.
Let me preface this with: I think Sal Capaccio does an OK job on the ESPN3 broadcasts, and I love the effort UB is putting into using the platform to highlight the other teams. But I could not stop laughing at this back and forth with Lee Nickell, the Men's Tennis coach.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>"You must be starting practice soon." "Actually, we've already played 8 matches." Cracking up. Poor Coach Nails.</p>— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) <a href="https://twitter.com/UBBullRun/status/568212298084564992">February 19, 2015</a></blockquote>
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That would take not even 30 seconds of prep to avoid. Coach Nails deserves a raise for that, but I appreciate the levity.
It's not that either UB team has particularly struggled from the bench this year, but both do much, much better when the reserves contribute, especially as FLJ has crunched her lineup down to eight for the most part as well. Last night both teams got bigtime numbers from the bench.
Prior to the season I made note of UB's record over the years when Will Regan hits double-digit scoring. Regan's diminished role this year has only made that correlation stronger: UB is now 6-1 when the senior scores 10 or more (5-0 when he hits 11). The men outscored EMU 24-4 from the bench yesterday even as the Eagles had two starters foul out, and Regan scored 13 on his own, getting to the foul line over and over again. His lone three-pointer was the beginning of the end for EMU, and came just as the Eagles threatened to make it a game.
In the other game, all three of UB's bench contributors came up big. We got the old version of Mackenzie Loesing, who scored 19 despite 1-5 on threes, the promising version of Karin Moss, who had SEVEN steals and five assists to only six combined turnovers and fouls, and really solid contributions down low from Ayana Bradley, who pulled down six rebounds in just 16 minutes.
Of course, those three accounted for eight of UB's 19 missed free throws, but UB doesn't win without them.
Pleasant surprises in both games. I think it speaks to how down the last few losses has you all that no one was really talking about UB hitting seven of 13 attempts from distance yesterday. Of course, it was also a relatively open-and-shut game, but that's a real good number in a column that's been letting us down lately. If Jarryn Skeete can get back to going 3-5 most games, we'll all be feeling better.
In the women's game, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Bulls attempt only 11 in a tight game. Five of those came from Loesing, which, she hits one more and I'm not too cranky about it. In general, Buffalo did a great job out of halftime working the ball down low and stepping in from the perimeter for higher-percentage jump shots.
Defensively, both UB teams held their opponents under 30% from 3; the men against a ton of EMU attempts, and the women against very few from Kent State.
I know we've talked to death about depth and fatigue, and I'm of the mind that there's just not more to say. But in both games UB got relatively balanced numbers across the board. Everyone got some rebounds, no one save Xavier Ford (with a technical) was in really serious foul trouble, and everyone contributed. Prior to the Akron game I pointed out that the most important player for the men was their third-leading scorer, and getting four guys above 10 is a big sign that the game went the way UB wants it.
On the women's side, balanced production means that Alexus Malone and more than one guard are playing well, which is kind of a no-brainer.
Both teams play simultaneously AGAIN on Saturday, so that's fun. Rooting interests for the rest of the MAC will be up tomorrow afternoon (women) and Saturday morning (men).