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Key defense propels Bulls over Western Michigan

Buffalo remains undefeated at home

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With 1:58 remaining in the second half, sophomore guard Shannon Evans recorded his only steal of the game, swiping the ball from a Western Michigan guard at half-court.

Evans then pushed the ball down the floor and finished with a monster dunk. The basket pushed the Bulls to lead by nine and got an already electric Alumni Arena crowd out of their seats.

The Bulls (13-6, 4-3 Mid-American Conference) defeated Western Michigan (13-7, 4-3 MAC) 77-71 in a raucous Alumni Arena on Tuesday night. With the win, the Bulls remained undefeated at the arena, pushing their home record to 7-0 on the season. Buffalo held the Broncos to just one made 3-pointer in the second half after allowing seven makes in the first half.

The Bulls’ defense pressured the Western Michigan guards early, forcing three early turnovers on consecutive possessions and converting on the offensive end. An emphatic dunk by senior forward Xavier Ford gave the team a 14-8 lead with 14 minutes left in the first.

Ford finished with 16 points, three rebounds and four second-half steals. He also hit his second 3-pointer of the season. The game was Ford’s first start of the season as he replaced senior forward Will Regan in the starting lineup. Regan played 13 minutes in his first game this season coming off the bench.

“Sometimes, you have to game plan for your opponent,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “Them not having [Austin Richie], there was a chance to exert more pressure. [Ford] did a good job putting pressure on [Connar Tava], making things tough for him, as well as making things tough for the guards. His energy has been a huge part of what we’ve been trying to do all year.”

Along with Ford, junior forward Justin Moss paced the Bulls offense in the first half. The combination of Moss and Ford combined for 18 of the teams’ 33 points, handling the Western Michigan frontline, while simultaneously keeping Buffalo in the game.

“I think I played the same,” Moss said. “I looked to attack early, but they sagged off me, allowing me to shoot more jumpers in this game. Since the jumper was there, I took it and it allowed me to drive when they waited for it later in the game. I made sure to finish.”

The Bulls went into halftime down 35-33 to the Broncos, partly due to the lack of 3-point shooting. Western Michigan converted on 58 percent from beyond the arc, while the Bulls went 0 of 9 from beyond the arc. The Broncos finished 56 percent shooting from the field in the first half.

The second half saw Buffalo pounce on Western Michigan, going on a 23-6 run for a little more than seven minutes in the middle of the half (14:55 – 7:58) to push the lead to double digits. Defensively, the Bulls trapped the Broncos players and held them to just one 3-pointer in the second half.

Offensively, the Bulls got easy transition baskets, as well as two 3-pointers. It was the teams’ first 3-point make at home since Jan. 14 against Northern Illinois.

“I think we won on the defensive end with the way we guarded and the pressure we put on them,” Hurley said. “Forcing 18 turnovers was big and having them result in 17 fast-break points for us was huge. We were in attack mode in the paint and I thought scoring 77 was great considering we didn’t shoot well behind the arc.”

Moss finished with a team-high 23 points, 10 rebounds and a game-sealing dunk, eliminating any chance of a comeback by the Broncos. Junior guard Jarryn Skeete finished with seven points, five rebounds and five assists.

Evans finished with six points on the night and five assists, while junior guard Rodell Wigginton came off the bench to score eight points and registered four rebounds. Freshman guard Lamonte Bearden filled up the stat sheet, finishing with six points, four rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.

The Bulls remain home at Alumni Arena for a late tip against Kent State (15-5, 6-1 MAC) on Friday at 10 p.m. The game will be telecasted on ESPNU.

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