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Buffalo Bulls 67, Akron Zips 62: Justin Moss goes ham, UB stays close before sublime final minutes finish off the Zips

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Moss finished with 25 and 13, but the story is the final two minutes.

UB Athletics

For all intents and purposes, tonight's home game against the Akron Zips was a top-four elimination game. Mathematically, Akron isn't out of it after Buffalo's 67-62 win in Alumni Arena, but it's pretty slim. The Zips fall to 8-7 in the MAC, while UB moves to 9-6.

For 39 and a half minutes, Justin Moss was the only Bull to play even adequately, finishing with 25 points and 13rebounds. But his last two minutes were another level, as good an application for MAC Player of the Year as you'll ever see: A big alley-oop dunk not-quite-dunk-but-two-points-is-two-points with 1:56 to go tied the game at 56; a layup out of an ensuing timeout; and two more free throws after a Xavier Ford steal.

We shouldn't be too surprised that the Akron program under Keith Dambrot was able to weather the loss of freshman point guard Noah Robotham. Tonight, the Zips shot well enough from the floor and found especial success on the offensive glass to overcome Robotham's injury and lead for a grand majority of the contest.

The key to the game, though, was as simple as it's ever been: You have to make shots - by putting the basketball through the hoop - to score points. For all but a short spurt in each half, Buffalo couldn't do it from the floor. Adding insult to injury, while the defense held strong in the second half, UB really, really, hurt themselves from the free throw line, shooting just 13-22 heading into the dying stretch.

But when it mattered in the final two minutes, the Bulls didn't miss. From anywhere. Moss' huge minute was followed up by key shots from the line from Ford and Evans, and a dynamic steal from Evans that I can't quite put into words. The sophomore capitalized on the old roll-the-ball-in-to-save time inbounds play, corralling the rock and quickly calling timeout.

***

We've rarely seen this team's customary streakiness as strongly as in the first half. UB started slow after hitting their first two threes, and finished slow from the floor. But in the middle they were white hot to erase an eight-point deficit and build a lead that nearly survived the half.

Even on the glass it was an up and down half. Akron grabbed offensive rebounds on their first six opportunities as Pat Forsythe raced out to 10 quick points. But UB closed the last 15 minutes of the half pulling down eight of nine opportunities at that end, while securing 11 offensive rebounds of their own.

The momentum continued in the second half. Akron quickly built a seven-point lead during an awful start for UB to the second half. Even as the Bulls got back to within three at the first media timeout, they couldn't close the gap entirely, opening the half shooting 3-19 from the floor. Even as UB was able to fight back, they quickly committed critical mistakes that led to five quick Zips points and a turnover heading into a late timeout.

It's genuinely a testament to the defense and the sloppiness of the both sides that UB was still in it late to even get a chance to pull ahead. Even with that spurt, the final shooting numbers are downright awful: 27% in the second half, 33% on 21-63 overall.

Buffalo committed only six turnovers during the game and managed an incredible 24 offensive boards. Those are numbers you need to overcome poor shooting. Pat Forsythe had 19 points to lead the Zips, but scored just nine of those in the final 34 minutes.

UB hits the road for the last time this weekend, heading to Kent looking to knock of the (as of this afternoon) first-place Golden Flashes for the second time this season. A 2-0 head-to-head record against the Flashes would be huge should the Bulls somehow end up tied with Kent at any seed.  That game will be at 7:00 PM and televised on ESPN3.

Go Bulls.