Game preview: UB Bulls take on Kent State
Bulls take three-game winning streak into a crucial conference matchup
With three games remaining in the regular season, the men’s basketball team controls its own destiny in the Mid-American Conference East.
Buffalo’s victory over Akron (17-11, 8-7 MAC) Tuesday night propelled it to third place in the MAC East, and the team can win the Eastern Conference by winning its last three games. But two of those three games include matchups against the teams currently tied for first place in the MAC East – starting with Kent State (19-9, 10-5 MAC) on Saturday.
The Bulls (18-9, 9-6 MAC) will play Kent State, who is tied for first place in the MAC East with Bowling Green (18-8, 10-5 MAC), in a pivotal conference matchup at the MAC Center in Kent, Ohio Saturday night. If the Bulls come out victorious, they will move into second place in the Eastern conference.
Buffalo defeated the Golden Flashes 80-55 on Jan. 30 en route to the highest scoring margin against a MAC team this season. The second-highest difference was 19 points in a win against Northern Illinois (11-15, 5-10 MAC) on Jan. 14.
But head coach Bobby Hurley said he doesn’t doubt the Golden Flashes based on his team last matchup with them, especially since that game was in Alumni Arena.
“They’re one of the best defensive teams in the conference. They’re a veteran team that’s been real consistent,” Hurley said. “We handled them well the first time, but we can’t expect to see the same team when we’re on their home court.”
Hurley said Buffalo had one of its best three-game stretches defensively this season in the past three games. The Bulls have not allowed more than 63 points during their current three-game winning streak, and the streak is the first time in MAC play this season where Buffalo has given up less than 70 points in three straight games.
The Golden Flashes rank second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 61.9 points per game. Buffalo ranks seventh in the MAC in the same category, giving up 67 points per game.
“It shows our defense controls the way we play and the outcome of the game,” said sophomore guard Shannon Evans. “If we keep pressuring the ball and playing in the open court, we’ll be fine.”
Kent State features forward Jimmy Hall, who ranks sixth in the MAC with 14.9 points per game and eighth in the conference with 7.1 rebounds per game. On Tuesday, Hall tied for a game-high 24 points to go with five rebounds in an 86-81 overtime loss to Miami Ohio (12-16, 7-8 MAC).
Hall is also one of three Kent State players in the top-21 in average rebounds per game in the MAC, joining forward Khaliq Spicer encer (No. 10) with 6.5 rebounds per game and forward Chris Ortiz (No. 21) with 4.7 rebounds per game.
Tuesday’s game against Akron was the first time since Jan. 27 where the Bulls secured a victory after trailing going into halftime. Buffalo trailed 34-33 at halftime before going on an 11-0 run at the end of the game to secure the victory. They are also riding their fifth three-game winning streak this season, including their second in conference play.
Saturday will be Buffalo’s final regular season game away from Alumni Arena. The Bulls are 9-6 in conference play, but are just 4-4 in MAC road games.
Hurley said he doesn’t care what Buffalo’s record is or has been this season. He said the team will focus on winning its last three game by doing what it’s been doing in the past week and a half since the start of its current three-game winning streak.
“We’re looking at it one practice at a time and getting ready for Saturday,” Hurley said. “I think we’ve found something on defense in the last three games and we need to be consistent if we want to win these games.”
Saturday’s tip off is set for 7 p.m.
Jordan Grossman is senior sports editor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org