UB Bulls defeat Bowling Green 77-75 to clinch the MAC East
Bulls automatically advance to the semi-finals of next week’s MAC Tournament
The Buffalo men's basketball team trailed by one with less than 20 seconds to go in a game that would decide the Mid-American Conference East and seeding in the upcoming MAC Tournament.
With 15 seconds left, freshman guard Lamonte Bearden stepped back and made the biggest shot of his short Bulls career thus far: a fade-away jumper from the free-throw line that rattled around the rim and went in for a Buffalo lead.
Then with the help of a missed free throw and critical defensive rebound, Buffalo held on for its second straight MAC East title and a share of the regular season MAC Championship.
The men's basketball team celebrates around head coach Bobby Hurley after its 77-75 win over Bowling Green in Alumni Arena Friday night. The Bulls clinched a share of the MAC regular season championship, the MAC East Division and a triple-bye in the MAC Tournament.
The Bulls (21-9, 12-6 MAC) defeated Bowling Green (19-10, 11-7 MAC) 77-75 at a sold-out Alumni Arena on Friday night to clinch the MAC East division and a share of the regular season championship. The victory solidified a triple-bye in next week’s MAC Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio as the team closed out the regular season on a six-game winning streak.
“We closed the season as good as you can close it," said head coach Bobby Hurley. "I wouldn’t have thought that a couple weeks ago being .500 in the league that we would finish the way we did.”
The game – which featured 21 lead changes – evidently came down to the final minute of play. The Bulls were trailing 73-71 with 1:12 left in the game, but a 3-pointer from senior forward Will Regan gave Buffalo a one-point lead. Bowling Green guard David Joseph ran down the court and hit a quick lay-up, resulting in a Falcons one-point lead with 26 seconds left in the game.
Then, Bearden hit his game-winning shot.
“To make the two big plays that he made and the big shot in the lane that we needed,” Hurley said. “That kid’s got some game and some talent. I look forward to having him for some time.”
But junior guard Rodell Wigginton then fouled Falcons guard Anthony Henderson, which sent Henderson to the line with a chance to tie the game and take the lead back for Bowling Green.
Henderson – who went 5 of 5 from beyond the arc in the game – missed the first of a one-and-one free-throw series that would have tied the game. Junior forward Justin Moss grabbed the rebound, was fouled and hit one of two free-throws to take a two point lead with six seconds left in the game.
After a loose ball and jump ball, the Falcons attempted a last-second shot, but it went out of bounds, giving Buffalo the ball back with 1.5 seconds left. Buffalo threw it into the crowd and ran down the clock to secure the victory.
The Bulls were leading 10-6 with 14:24 left in the first half, but a Falcons 21-7 run over the next eight-plus minutes gave Bowling Green a 10-point lead.
Buffalo was trailing by as much as 14 as the first half was winding down, but the 3-point shooting of Evans and Regan brought the team back into the game.
The Bulls ended the first half on a 15-1 run, highlighted by three 3-pointers from Evans and two 3-pointers from Regan in the final four minutes of the half.
“Will didn’t miss a shot in practice yesterday,” Hurley said. “I had a feeling he was going to hit some three’s today.”
Hurley admitted the team did not play its best game, as it shot 42 percent from the field and 57 percent from the free-throw line.
Sophomore guard Shannon Evans finished with 14 points, including four 3-pointers – three of which were made in a three-minute stretch at the end of the first half. Evans credits his energetic play to Alumni Arena’s crowd.
Moss was in foul trouble all game, accumulating two fouls within the first five minutes of the game. Nonetheless, the MAC Player of the Year candidate finished with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting and nine rebounds in 21 minutes played.
“Justin needs to learn from this,” Hurley said. “He’s done so much for us. He’s been so valuable. He’s such a big part of what we do. He has a tendency to put himself in bad situations and commit fouls 30 feet away from the basket that make no sense. We need him on the floor, not over with me.”
The team played in front of an announced crowd of 6,607 people – its third highest total in the arena’s history and the highest in over 10 years.
“I know this team feeds off the energy of the crowd,” said Athletic Director Danny White. “We firmly believe our game-day atmosphere starts and stops with out students. They were unbelievable tonight.”
Senior forward Xavier Ford and Regan were honored before the game with framed jerseys as the team and crowd celebrated their Bulls careers. Ford finished with six points and nine rebounds, while Regan finished with 17 points – 15 of which came from the three ball. He also added eight rebounds.
"It’s everything I could have asked for,” Regan said. “To play your last game for a situation that means so much. It was for a three-game bye. The crowd was amazing. The locals were amazing. As a local kid, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Due to the triple-bye, the Bulls will not play again until next Friday. Buffalo automatically advances to the semi-finals of the MAC Tournament. Their opponent has yet to be determined. If the team advances from there, it will play in the championship game for an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament the following week.
Next Friday’s game will be played at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com