For the success of this season so far, UB made it to the last month of the schedule without ever stringing together a four-game winning streak. Saturday night Akron joined St. Bonaventure, Wisconsin, and Western Michigan as teams to halt Buffalo momentum and moved to 21-4 all time at home against the Bulls in a 75-72 win.
Justin Moss and Xavier Ford led UB with 21 and 22 points, but scored much of those in the first half and cooled off in a troubling second. Akron on the other hand featured an extremely balanced offense, especially from the bench. The Zips reserves outscored UB's 30-2 on the night and Akron saw five Zips hit double digits.
Neither team gained much of an edge through a blistering first half in which forwards Xavier Ford and Justin Moss combined for 31 points and helped UB to a 28-14 advantage in the paint and 43-41 advantage overall, and that continued after the break, with Akron holding a slim-to-moderate lead throughout thanks to timely three-point shooting and frankly poor on-ball defense from UB.
Consecutive threes from Jake Kretzer midway through the second put the Zips up seven and embodied the defensive night for Buffalo. Those threes weren't quite the kill shot, but led to a stretch of turnovers for UB that minimized the visitors' chances to pull back. All night, Akron didn't shoot the lights out but did enjoy tons of space on their makes and never had to deal with much pressure, committing just 9 turnovers.
After those threes, UB shot themselves in the foot time and time again with costly turnovers and missed threes well before they needed to cut the lead quickly. Strong execution and smart shots could have gotten the Bulls back in it, and when Xavier Ford hit a three with 57 seconds to play, you wanted for even one of those possessions to have gone better.
The questionable decision making continued when Ford was left to take the shot from distance on the next possession. Of five three-point attempts in the final minute, Jarryn Skeete took just one, and UB could not close to 75-75. Perhaps the last-minute shots could have been a better look had Coach Hurley used his fifth time out to set something up.
Pregame, the easy narrative was the difference the teams' pace: Akron, a middle-of-the-pack team nationally in pace, had just one win when scoring over 70 points, while UB lives in the 70s as one of the fastest squads in the nation. Early on, though, it was Akron hitting big shots and getting points from a bench forward en route to a fast lead.
A furious Hurley timeout after a few confused defensive possessions led, though, to a solid UB run in transition and in the lane. The Bulls retook the lead at 27-24, forcing an Akron timeout just before the under-8 media. From there we got the game we expected from two of the best in the conference; the half closed in back and forth haymakers before ending with UB barely ahead.
Akron was successfully able to slow down in the second half, and the game was decided as the Buffalo defense wasn't able to pressure the home team into enough missed shots.
Eight games remain in the season, and UB is one of two teams in the conference to close out with five at home from here on out. That's a huge advantage for this team looking to get the highest bye possible and minimize the number of games in Cleveland come MAC Tournament time.