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UB Bulls defeat MAC East leader behind largest home crowd in four years

Xavier Ford scores career-high 25 points in blackout game

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The Buffalo men’s basketball team had reasons to be confident heading into the locker room for halftime Friday night.

It led Mid-American Conference East leaders Kent State by 20, was shooting over 50 percent from the field and had dominated on defense with six steals and three blocks.

The team also got something it doesn’t always hear as it headed into the locker room: a standing ovation from a large and raucous student section and Alumni Arena crowd.

The Bulls (14-6, 5-3 MAC) continued their dominance in the second half and defeated Kent State (15-6, 6-2 MAC) 80-55 in a packed Alumni Arena Friday night. The announced attendance of 5,797 – nearly 2,000 more than any game this season – was the largest at a Buffalo men’s basketball game since Dec. 30, 2010. The Bulls wore their alternate black jerseys and the first 1,000 students received a free True Blue tuxedo T-shirt for the blackout game – which was aired nationally on ESPNU.

“It was a great game to be a part of, the energy of the crowd, the atmosphere, and the way we played defensively,” said head coach Bobby Hurley.

Hurley and the team said they were excited about how the hype of the game lived up to their expectations. Hurley also said he hopes to continue to coach games with that same energy.

The win extends the team’s home court winning-streak to eight games while snapping a six-game winning streak for the Golden Flashes. The Bulls now trail Kent State by one game for the MAC East lead.

Senior forward Xavier Ford shined in his second start of the season, finishing with a career-best 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He also grabbed nine rebounds.

“For me, the night was about Xavier Ford,” Bobby Hurley said. “He was a star out there tonight. Hitting the three’s, his put-backs, getting out in open court and playing – he really ignited everything we were doing tonight.”

Ford had hit three 3-pointers all season before Friday’s contest. He matched it after sinking back-to-back three’s to begin the second half and extend Buffalo’s lead to 26 points.

Ford – who’s previous career-high was 17 points has averaged over 20 points the past two games while replacing senior forward Will Regan in the starting lineup.

Hurley said he doesn’t believe Ford’s style of play has changed much since entering the starting lineup.

“He’s the same guy,” Hurley said. “He’s just getting a few more minutes and more confidence at the beginning of the game. It’s not easy coming off the bench. He’d been doing that all year and I felt like I needed to see him on the court. His versatility at that end is making us a better basketball team.”

The Bulls got off to a 6-0 deficit within the first two minutes of the game. But Ford and sophomore guard Shannon Evans combined for the teams’ first 12 points en route to a 17-2 run to take a 17-8 lead with a little more than 12 minutes left to play in the game.

Evans finished the night with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was 2 of 3 from the perimeter. Junior guard Jarryn Skeete finished with eight points and was 2 of 8 from beyond the arc.

Hurley said he is pleased with Evans and Skeete’s ability to return to shooting form.

“It’s nice to see those guys make shots,” Hurley said. “It takes pressure off trying to score inside or trying to go to the glass. But they’re good shooters. They’ll continue to make shots as it keeps going.”

The Bulls’ defense also played a large role in the victory. The Bulls gave up a season-low 55 points while forcing 14 turnovers and seven steals.

Buffalo also held Kent State to just 34 percent shooting from the field and allowed a paltry 21 percent from three-point range. The Bulls also held the Golden Flashes to just 22 points in the paint. Junior forward Raheem Johnson, highlighted the teams’ defense in the paint.

Johnson executed three pivotal blocks in the first 10 minutes of the game that led to a momentum shift in which Buffalo would never relinquish.

“Raheem has been great for us,” Ford said. “He has a shot-blocking presence. When he’s not in the game, the paint is a little bit open and they have an easier time finishing. When you have someone that’s 6-foot-10 whose long and athletic, it adds a little different aspect to the game. He’s been great for us.”

Johnson finished the game with seven points, four blocks and three rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

Junior forward Justin Moss nearly got his eleventh double-double of the season, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds. Regan finished with only two points, but had four rebounds in a second-half surge in which Kent State could not recover from.

The Bulls will travel to Muncie, Indiana on Feb. 4 to take on Ball State (7-11, 2-5 MAC) at the John E. Worthen Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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