UB men's basketball preview: Bulls look to secure the MAC East
With a win, Bulls clinch the MAC East, could take No. 2 seed in MAC Tournament
Two weeks ago, the Bulls were on a three-game losing streak and fell into the middle of the pack in the Mid-American Conference standings. It looked like the team was set to play in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
But a five-game winning streak heading into the final matchup of the season propelled the team into position to win the MAC East and a possible triple-bye in next week’s conference tournament.
The Bulls (20-9, 11-6 MAC) will play Bowling Green (19-9, 11-6 MAC) in the final regular season matchup on Friday night in Alumni Arena. The team can secure the MAC East and at least a double-bye in next week’s tournament with a victory.
If the Bulls win on Friday, they will win the MAC East.
Head coach Bobby Hurley said the losing streak late last month is what propelled Buffalo to its strong finish.
“We were playing winning basketball in those losses,” Hurley said. “We just couldn’t make enough plays at the end. Those games made us tougher, made us fight on every possession. Going on the road, winning three of our five games in this streak on the road, I don’t know if we’d do that without this little adversity here.”
The last time the Bulls and Falcons played on Feb. 21, the Bulls won 68-56. Junior forward Justin Moss was in foul trouble throughout the game, resulting in Hurley using a 2-3 zone defense in order to keep Moss in the game for as long as possible.
The two players that held Buffalo together in that game were junior guard Jarryn Skeete and sophomore guard Shannon Evans. Skeete started the game hot, hitting four 3-pointers to open up the game and finished with 15 points. Evans finished with a team-high 19 points and three assists.
Hurley cited Evans’ recent play (16.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 49 percent from the field and 56 percent from three in their five-game winning streak) as part of the recent success for the Bulls.
“Shannon has been great,” Hurley said. “He won MAC Player of the Week twice, he was huge offensively in the second half against Kent State and against Ohio, he had 11 assists and just one turnover. He’s also been great on the defensive end, too.”
The matchup between Buffalo and Bowling Green is a matchup of good offense against good defense. The Bulls are ranked third in the MAC in points per game, averaging 74.7 points. As for the Falcons, their success is predicated on their defense, allowing a league-low 60.9 points per game.
Despite the reputation of being a good offensive team, Hurley said the Bulls defense was a big reason for their winning streak and why they may play far into the tournament.
“When we defend the way we’re capable of playing defense, we’re tough to beat,” Hurley said. “When we’ve held team’s below 60 points, we usually win. Teams expect us to push offensively, but it’s our defense that takes us to the next level.”
In their five-game winning streak, the Bulls have allowed 62.4 points per game and opponents have shot just 39 percent from the floor. It is the first time all season the Bulls held all of their opponents to under 70 points in five straight games.
The Bulls will have to use their defense to slow down forward Richaun Holmes, who leads the Falcons with 14.9 points per game. Last game against Kent State, Holmes put up a game-high 29 points while shooting 11 of 20 from the field.
Last Tuesday, Bowling Green was defeated by the Golden Flashes in an 81-80 overtime loss.
With a win, the Bulls will clinch the division, but they’ll need a little bit of help in order to claim the second seed in the MAC Tournament.
Both Buffalo and Toledo (19-11, 11-6 MAC) currently have 11 conference wins, however, the Rockets defeated the Bulls 92-88 on Feb 10, giving them the tiebreaker. If the Rockets lose tomorrow to Eastern Michigan (18-12, 7-10 MAC) and the Bulls win, they will also clinch the No. 2 seed for next week’s conference tournament and would be awarded a triple-bye in the conference tournament.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org