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UB men’s basketball preview: Bulls focused on finishing as MAC Tournament approaches

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The Buffalo men’s basketball team could be sitting in a much different place in the Mid-American Conference standings if it could just finish games.

Against Toledo (16-10, 7-6 MAC) last week, the Bulls scored just once in the final three minutes resulting in a 71-69 loss. Against Akron (21-5, 10-3 MAC), they allowed the Zips to go on a 16-4 run in the second half to put the game out of reach.

“I think we need to show up for 40 minutes,” said head coach Nate Oats. “We showed we can play hard, play smart and aggressive for stretches of games … We have to do a better job closing games.”

Without suspended sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden, the Bulls (14-12, 7-6 MAC) have suffered a three-game losing streak. The result? Falling from second to fourth in the MAC East standings.

Buffalo hosts Bowling Green (13-13, 4-9 MAC) Saturday and Kent State (17-9, 8-5 MAC) Tuesday in Alumni Arena. Oats remains hopeful that his team can get right back on track.

“We have to come out and play well on Saturday,” Oats said. “We’re not talking about winning five in a row, we’re talking about winning one and seeing what happens. That’s where we’re at right now.”

Bowling Green is behind the Bulls in the MAC East, but Oats said Saturday’s game “isn’t going to be an easy one for us,” despite the Falcons’ record. The Falcons are fourth in the conference in three-point shooting, behind two teams Buffalo has recently played: Ohio and Akron.

“They play hard, they don’t shoot it as well as the last three teams we’ve played,” Oats said. “They play a lot like us – physical and tough, athletic wings, young athletic bigs. They’re record isn’t great right now, but they’re playing everyone tough.”

The Falcons are led by forward Spencer Parker, who leads the Falcons at 14.0 points per game. Around Parker, the Falcons have two other good three-point shooters in guards Zack Denny and Wesley Alcegaire. All three have knocked down more than 37 percent of their three-point attempts this season, with Parker hitting exactly 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season.

When asked about the status of Bearden, Oats said that the guard was “day-to-day,” but hopes to “see him on Saturday,” suggesting he may suit up against Bowling Green.

“Losing Bearden hurt us a lot,” Oats said, “hurt the rotation, guys playing more minutes than we wanted to play.”

Bearden’s presence would certainly help. Bearden, who’s been on an indefinite suspension since last week, would give the Bulls another guard to throw on Denny and Alecgaire around the perimeter.

If Bearden can’t go, the Bulls will rely on senior guards Rodell Wigginton and Jarryn Skeete, junior wing Willie Conner and freshman guard CJ Massinburg to handle Bowling Green and their ball screens. Massinburg has scored double-digits in each of his last six games, and has averaged 28.5 points a game over his past two games.

With the emergence of Massinburg in the backcourt, the Bulls have a potential two-man backcourt that can fulfill all of the duties needed in Oats’ backcourt. Once Bearden returns, Oats said it’s possible that they can play together.

“When he does come back, we’d to see them together. Before [Bearden] went out, he was playing better than any guard in the league,” Oats said. “When we won those four in a row, he was rolling. If he could come and play the same mode he was in before he had to sit, with CJ the way he’s picking it up, having the two of them together, I think it would be a great backcourt with those two together.”

Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 12 p.m.

The Bulls then host the Golden Flashes, who sit above Buffalo in the MAC East, on Tuesday. The team has went just 2-4 in its last six games after a 6-1 start to MAC play, but is coming off an 85-78 overtime win over Western Michigan (10-16, 4-9 MAC).

Kent State is led by three players who all average more than 12 points per game and at least two assists per game in Jimmy Hall, Xavier Pollard and Kellon Thomas.

Hall leads the lineup with averages of 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He also averages 2.3 assists. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward has also knocked down five three-pointers this season.

The Bulls face the Flashes at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HaynesTheWriter. 


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