One way to overcome struggles closing out close games in the final minutes is to blow the other team out of the gym. The Bulls did that on Saturday in Athens, OH, defeating the Bobcats by a final score of 86-66. The game was not as close as the score indicates.
UB has now won 6 of 7, with the lone loss to Toledo in a game they were in until crunch time, as they continue to improve as the season has gone along. This victory, however, is the first against a team above .500, an encouraging sign and hopefully a mental breakthrough that allows them to achieve their potential.
Because, to be sure, that potential is great. They have the most athletic roster in the league, often overwhelming opponents. Of late, they’ve trended to playing bigger lineups for stretches and their big men have asserted themselves as differentiators, causing matchup problems for opponents. The MAC is not littered with teams with the depth of bigs that Buffalo has.
The bench again helped to provide some of the missing energy normally in an arena for a game as big as this, and the starting five fed off of it early jumping out to a large lead right from the tip.
When We Knew It Was Decided
Josh Mballa had 19 by half, rebounding from a game that was off from his standards in the prior contest and finished with 23 and 9 boards along with 3 steals. Those steals were notable as the Bulls had 11 for the game, an outcome that is uncharacteristic for the Bobcats who entered the contest 7th in the nation in assist to turnover ratio, but gave it away 14 times before the break. The steals fueled multiple runouts in the first half when the game was taken over, including a thunderous dunk from Jayvon Graves and another missed 360 attempt by him. That miss seemed to spur Ohio on a run to cut the lead, but when the Bulls responded with a run of their own to rebuild the lead to twenty plus, the outcome seemed ordained.
Graves had a great floor game, contributing 7 assists to accompany 12 points and keying a defensive effort against PG Jason Preston. The junior star was held to 10 points and forced into 5 turnovers.
Strong games were also turned in by David Nickelberry with a career high 16 points on 7-8 shooting and Travon Fagan, who hit double digits again. Brock Bertram was able to play again and provided steady minutes and 7 boards. Head Coach Jim Whitsell was again able to reward his bench bunch with minutes down the stretch of the blowout victory, including walk-ons Jamon Bivens and Lucas Saleh.
Keishawn Brewton remained sidelined with a wrist injury.
The final week of the season will be of extreme import, as Buffalo closes with home games against Akron and Kent St, traditional East Division rivals with whom the Bulls are jockeying for seeding before the MAC tourney gets underway in Cleveland a week from Thursday.