A troubling recent trend continued for UB on Friday night against Ohio University, as end of game execution again was the difference in a 76-75 loss at home to the Bobcats.
Both teams came in with middling conference records looking to improve their place in the standings and to distance themselves from their opponent as teams jockey for MAC Tournament seeding. The Bulls may now need to put those concerns out of their mind and focus on simply qualifying for the eight-team event as they look to get back on the winning track. Ohio climbed within a half game of preseason favorite Bowling Green for third place at 6-4 and the Bulls dropped into a three-way tie for sixth, at 4-4, with Kent St and Ball St. For now, they seem safe to qualify as the bottom four teams are all each at least two further games back. However, there remain twelve games to be played, including three postponed games to be rescheduled (if all are rescheduled and played; UB only has one ‘open’ date on it’s remaining schedule on Tuesday 2/23).
Ohio showed more energy from the start, taking an early 11-5 lead at the first media timeout and maintaining it through most of the first half, on their way to a 41-32 halftime margin. The key to gaining the lead was an early 13-0 run for the visitors while the home squad went scoreless for nearly five minutes. Sophomore Ben Roderick led the Cats with 12 first half points and the Bulls were uncharacteristically outrebounded for the half, as well as the game overall. Brock Bertram returned to action but Coach Whitesell still opted to start Keishawn Brewton for the second consecutive game, playing a small ball lineup.
The early minutes of half number two were up tempo and entertaining and, eventually, the Bulls closed the gap, drawing even to set up a close final few minutes in what has been a theme for the team this season. Foul trouble limited the minutes for some key Bobcats, including Roderick, Ben Vander Plas and star PG Jason Preston, who all finished with four. Continuing another theme from recent games, UB was behind at half but played better and carried the action after the break.
Jayvon Graves led the way, with an improved-looking jump shot, as he went 3-4 from deep overall on his way to 18 points. He led the team in minutes and played his usual well-rounded and steady floor game as he continues to shoulder more ball handling and distribution responsibilities on offense. If this is a sign of the return to form of his outside shot, it could portend a good closing run to his senior season.
LaQuill Hardnett continued to look more aggressive and confident on the offensive end, which made it somewhat surprising that Coach Whitesell elected to close the game primarily with David Nickelberry on the floor with the ‘Big Four’, of Segu, Graves, Williams and Mballa. Nickelberry and Brewton were next on the team in minutes for the night, but went a combined 2-13 from the floor. UB will need to find the right rotation and closing mix if they want to finish the season the way they envision.
Foul shooting also haunted the Bulls as they went only 8-14 from the line in the second half, despite reaching the bonus around the 14 minute mark. In a one point game, it doesn’t need to be said, free throws can make the difference. This has been a struggle overall for the Bulls all season. The borderline basket interference call on Jeenathan Williams as well as the ‘could easily have been called’ no-call on Williams drive on UB’s penultimate possession also were what could have been moments to look back on for the team after the game.
Despite these struggles and the early deficit, UB was right there and had a lead after an Mballa putback with forty seconds left. Ohio big man Dwight Wilson rebounded a missed Vander Plas layup with twenty-five seconds remaining and put it back in for the final margin. Williams had the first of two final chances for the Bulls with the previously mentioned missed layup and no-call on a drive with about 15 seconds left. After a foul and a missed front end by Williams for Ohio, Segu’s final three just missed as the horn sounded.
After the game, teammates were universally supportive of Segu taking the shot and confident he’d knock it down if given the opportunity in the future. Ohio’s exuberant reaction after the buzzer and high energy all night revealed the import they placed on this game. Perhaps UB will repay the favor in the rematch in a few weeks, and the possibility of matching up in Cleveland always lurks.
UB looks to get back in the win column on Tuesday against Ball State in Muncie, Ind. at 6pm. The Cardinals had their game against Kent St. postponed due to COVID protocols this past Tuesday, but are scheduled to play Akron today on the road, so hopefully this game will occur as scheduled.