I've said it in a few places before that I feel Buffalo needs three results in MAC play to get into the conference tournament, mostly due to the Bulls just missing out with last year's 1-2-2 conference record. I've also been adamant that the postseason is a must to give UB critical experience before an upperclassmen-loaded 2016.
Today's home result, an invigorating 2-0 win against West Virginia, will go a long way to putting the Bulls into an extra game (or more) when all is said and done. The Mountaineers had stretches in each half where they controlled play, but UB managed a similar defensive effort to last week's Akron loss while generating plenty more offense.
The tide turned late in the first half when Buffalo was able to string together some corner kicks, and the Bulls momentum continued in the second, though UB was frequently close to drawing first blood. In the 70th minute Russell Cicerone pounded a 30-yard free kick off the crossbar and in for the game-winner, and Marcus Hanson capitalized four minutes later on an open net to give the Bulls some breathing room.
Most pleasingly, UB continued to generate chances after taking the 2-0 lead. Scott Doney was closest to scoring UB's third in the 84th minute, but Buffalo drew three fouls and generated three shots in the ten minutes after Hanson's marker. On the game, the two teams were near even with 15 and 16 shots, though few of Joseph Kuta's eight saves were particularly noteworthy. UB also only ceded three corners, and this very much felt like a deserved win once the early WVU pressure waned.
Buffalo's defense was strong once again, though without the same Herculean effort they needed against Akron. Fox Slotemaker and Nick Forrester seem to be somehow getting better together at centerback, and Kuta's eight saves were a career high, topping his seven against Akron. In his current run of four starts, the Robert Morris transfer has three shutouts and an admirable performance against the Zips.
UB's 2014 postseason hopes took a big hit when WVU shutout the Bulls and injured Cicerone. Today, the junior left the field with a dislocated shoulder following a run that appeared to earn a penalty - and let's be real: he had the ball on his foot in the box and somehow ended up with a dislocated shoulder; that's a penalty - but the Bulls got the win and now look in good shape despite two road matches in their next three.
Cicerone's goal gives him seven during his current six-game scoring streak. I can only access game-by-game data back to 1999, which Tim Songer (12) and Steve Butcher (14) combined for 26 goals, but a the six-game streak is the longest by a Bull in at least that long.
Next week sees the Bulls travel to Dekalb to face Northern Illinois on Saturday. Last season UB capitalized on a slew of cards to easily dispatch the Huskies, but this year NIU is 1-0 in the MAC with a win over Bowling Green. It was my belief preseason that Buffalo could be a top-three team in the conference, and a win Saturday would go a long way to proving it.