UB Bulls use late 11-0 run to defeat Akron, now in play for MAC East title
Buffalo can win Eastern conference by winning last three games
Alumni Arena has been unkind to the men’s basketball team as of late.
After beginning the season 8-0 at home, Buffalo fell to Toledo 92-88 on Feb. 10 and allowed Central Michigan to score 43 second half points for a come-from-behind 75-74 victory on Feb. 14.
And against Akron on Tuesday night, the scene was set for the Bulls to drop their third consecutive home game. With 3:45 remaining, Buffalo trailed by three.
But the Bulls went on an 11-0 run over the next three minutes to secure a third place standing in the Mid-American Conference East and regain their home court dominance.
The Bulls (18-9, 9-6 MAC) used their late run to defeat Akron (17-11, 8-7 MAC) 67-62 in front of an announced crowd of 3,541 in Alumni Arena. With the victory, the Bulls are now in third place in the MAC East with three conference games remaining. If the Bulls win out the rest of the season, they will clinch the MAC East title for the second straight year.
“We struggled shooting, we struggled with free throws, but we didn’t turn the ball over,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “Six turnovers, twenty-four offensive rebounds showed our energy throughout the game. We’ve been through some adversity with tight games and we made progress tonight and in our last two games.”
The victory was secured in part by an athletic play by sophomore guard Shannon Evans. After the Bulls took a 62-56 lead with 28 seconds to go, Evans stole a loose ball on the inbounds and called a quick timeout to clinch the win.
The Bulls trailed Akron 34-33 at halftime. The Bulls forced Akron into eight turnovers, but the Zips still shot 48 percent from the floor in the half.
In the second half, both teams went into a shooting slump. Neither team could find a long stretch of offensive success, leaving both capable of stealing a victory late. Akron shot just 38 percent from the floor, in the second half but the Bulls also struggled and shot just 27 percent from the field and 16 percent from three.
The difference was turnovers.
Buffalo was still able to force Akron into turning the ball over. After eight in the first half, the Bulls forced the Zips into seven second-half turnovers, four of which came by Buffalo steals.
The Bulls also made sure to focus on Akron’s star players, sending multiple defenders to Akron’s Jake Kretzer
“I thought we did a good job with some of the guys who hurt us in the first game [against Akron],” Hurley said. “We kept [Kretzer] in place tonight, after watching him go for 13 points in the first 15 minutes last time. We made sure to keep a defender in front of him at all times.”
Kretzer finished with zero points on 0-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Lamonte Bearden didn’t light up the stat-sheet (six points and four rebounds), but his defense was key in shutting down Kretzer.
Junior forward Justin Moss finished with a game-high 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds. His alley-oop dunk from Wigginton with 1:58 left in the second half gave the Bulls the lead, and his two free throws late gave the Bulls a 60-56 lead, giving the team some breathing room late.
“Getting to the basket has been my strength all season,” Moss said. “Getting to the line, I was nine-for-ten from the line. As for my spin move, I just had to react. The defender cut me off and all I had was that spin to get to the basket.”
Wigginton finished with 12 points and four rebounds off the bench. Evans had 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. His key play with less than 30 seconds remaining iced the game for the Bulls.
The Bulls head back on the road for the final time in the regular season to face Kent State (19-9, 10-5 MAC) on Saturday, Feb. 28 in the MAC Center in Kent, Ohio. The last time the Bulls played the Golden Flashes, they defeated them 80-55 inside of a raucous Alumni Arena on national television.
After the game, Evans said that this late in the season, the goal is to get a victory by any means necessary.
“Were creeping up on March,” Evans said. “We want to find a way to win games regardless of offense. I feel like this is a great sign for us as a team because we haven’t peaked early. We’re heading in the right direction.”
Saturday’s tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Quentin Haynes is the sports desk editor. You can reach him at email@example.com