Time for our normal next-day takeaways following a pair of basketball games yesterday. The women won at home to run their winning streak to four, their longest of the season, while the men fell on the road in search of their first four-game winning streak of the year.
Both teams are 6-4 and in contention for a top-four seed in the conference tournament, though the state of the MAC men's bracket is in constant flux with a clear top six teams, while the women's side is a little more stratified.
Women: Won, 66-45, versus Bowling Green
This was a rout from start to finish, but for two or three minutes early in the second half when the Falcons pulled withing - gasp - 11. Bowling Green is traditionally one of the strongest teams in the MAC but has been ruined by injuries this season and is now just 2-9 in the MAC.
Mackenzie Loesing quietly getting more productive
In a pregame interview, Coach Jack spoke of the junior guard 'getting healthier,' and though we shouldn't expect Loesing at 100% this year, her first two games back from a nasty concussion have been good. Yesterday she had more points than field goal attempts for the first time since the 20-point win against Miami a month ago, and has in consecutive games taken only six shots from beyond the arc. If you think that's still too much, fine, but it's down for her, and I appreciate it.
Working in the paint
This is more of a multi-game trend, but #RightShark Kristen Sharkey is becoming the unstoppable force we counted on, and Christa Baccas and Alexus Malone are growing more consistent, as well. Though we'd expect a strong game against the depleted Falcons, massive advantages on points in the paint (40-4), rebounding (37-25), and second chance points (17-0 on 13 offensive boards) are too good to not highlight.
UB was 26-46 on shots inside the arc, 19-31 on that stat from the starters. That's good.
6-4 with eight to play
On this date in 2014, UB was 6-4 in the MAC, the same spot they find themselves now. Obviously the conference is a bit different, and Buffalo still has two games against Akron, but for all the frustration, UB's got four in a row and the four before that feature two narrow losses, one in overtime, and two more wins.
They're not the team that many predicted to top the division, but they're playing well and the three remaining matches against Akron and Ohio will go a long way to establishing where they really fall in conference.
Men: Lost, 75-72 at Akron
Before I get into the specific takeaways, I've got to emphasize this is in no way a backbreaker. In the last eight MAC games, only WMU and Buffalo have five at home, and UB is only one game out of first place. There's a distinct possibility that we're back in a four-way tie for first at the end of the night Tuesday.
Compared to the buzzer-beating loss to Ohio or whatever happened those two games in Michigan, there is little shame in losing by three at Akron. It's the first MAC road loss I'm not upset about.
That said, the takeaways from this loss are important
This team needs to play fast
More than normal, I ask that you read the whole thing before flocking to disagree.
The contrast in pace between Akron and UB was significant enough pregame that most outlets pointed to it as a key to the game. Akron even with the win is 2-4 when scoring more than 70, while UB lives in the 75-80 (or more) range. A 43-41 advantage in the first half felt pretty good, even if Akron was keeping it close. Moss and Ford were rolling.
Postgame, Keith Dambrot praised his team tightening up on UB's two forwards. That's merely a secondary effect of the key change, but it's the answer he gave in part because it's what the media were asking for to fill out their stories.
Akron's shooting didn't really slow down, but they came from 41 in the first down to 34 in the second. They were effectively able to slow the game down and keep scoring efficiently. Extrapolate the second half out and it's 68 for the Zips over a full forty - right in their sweet zone.
UB left a lot of points on the floor in the second half, and it's easy to see that a lot came from rushed shots and passes. When I advocate playing fast, I don't mean getting the ball to the rim fast, I mean getting to the offense fast. Akron was able to slow down because in the second half they settled into their defense more quickly than UB settled into their offense.
Buffalo doesn't need to score all their points in transition, but when they're successful, it's because the first pass of the offense is a no brainer and a high-percentage choice. They don't need to shoot with 20 seconds left in the shot clock, but they do need to be crossing the time line well before a 10-second call is imminent. That's just how they work best.
Execute the offense at the pace you're able, but transition into offense more quickly. Akron slowed that down, and that's how they grabbed momentum. Without knowing what's being said from the coaching box to the team, I think Hurley needs to encourage his team to fight through that deliberation with pace ...
Decision making once down
... while also maintaining composure once they get into the offense if the immediate look isn't a great one.
I mentioned it in a takeaways piece a few games back, and a number of you have brought it up in comments: this team does not come from behind well, and a five-point deficit in the second half is a near death-knell. Last night could not be a clearer indication, and most of you were on it in real time, too.
Jake Kretzer's back-to-back threes came earlier in the game than you think: just before the halfway point of the second stanza. Working inside and through Shannon Evans, Buffalo was within three minutes later with 7:52 to play. UB only made three shots from the field the rest of the way, while missing six attempts from distance. They weren't desperation shots, either; not one of UB's seven attempts from distance came with less than 12 seconds on the shot clock.
Even in the first half when things were going well, you could tell Akron was a smart team that knew how to take care of the ball. UB's defense didn't generate many steals, and I think settled a bit upon realizing Akron couldn't be pestered into turning it over, which lead to a good day from distance for the Zips.
Many of Robotham's hits in the first half came from decently beyond the three-point arc. You can't chase someone too far away or they find a passing lane. But in general, Buffalo didn't pressure the ball enough at all. For the same reasons the offense thrives when it makes its first move sooner, the defense thrives on not having to play the full 35.
UB generated only 9 turnovers on 6 steals, and on the critical defensive swing of the game, left Jake Kretzer entirely too much time to hit his pair of threes. It tightened when the going got tough late, but Akron stayed with UB in the first and kept them at bay in the second because they weren't harassed early enough in their possessions.
On that note, while I blame the loss more substantially on the large chunks of words above, I do think UB's foul situation hampered the on-ball pressure a bit. For as streaky as he can be offensively, Rodell Wigginton is to my eyes our best perimeter defender (recall his work in the Kent game), and his normal partner-in-crime is Jarryn Skeete. The two have a strong understanding with each other out there on the arc, and Skeete playing only 11 minutes in the first half I think hurt a bit.
Secondly, the foul that led to a Bobby Hurley bench warning definitely hurt UB's tenacity as they were trying to come back. It was a foul, sure, but called on Rodell due to body contact on the outside. A tough call to take.
Men's hoops are back in action Tuesday night at HOME against Toledo. If you're reading this and live in Buffalo, UB Athletics is making a big push for this game. Trust me, this loss to Akron was not at all a bad one, and the Bulls are still in a great position with all these home games and the six-team cluster atop the MAC to secure a top seed.
The women play the next day, Wednesday on the road in Akron. That one's going to be a test, but will go a long way to showing where they stand heading into the home stretch.