Men’s basketball team looks to remove defensive lapses with seven games left
If you look at the Bulls from a perspective outside the team, they would look like the top team in the Mid-American Conference. They are first in the conference and east division, on pace to break the school’s points per game record and have a win over the west division leader. All signs point to the Bulls as MAC Championship bound.
But head coach Nate Oats doesn’t see a championship team yet. He sees issues.
“We got games where we are up 20 –– almost 30 points –– and we almost always blow the lead and then struggle to get the win or sometimes lose,” Oats said. “We are good on defense but if we are going to be at our best, we have to work out these defensive lapses.”
Despite the team’s success this season, both Oats and players say the team needs to work on these lapses if it is going to play to its full potential.
In their past four games, the Bulls (18-6, 10-1 MAC) have seen double digit leads dwindle in the final ten minutes. The Bulls lost their first conference game during this four game stretch, losing to the Kent State Golden Flashes 79-82 (12-12, 6-5 MAC) after having a 68-55 lead with nine minutes left.
“It only takes a team six minutes to undo 34 minutes of good basketball,” Oats said. “We have to work on these lapses because I know we will show up on offense.”
Before the four close games, the Bulls had come off a nine game win streak that saw them win handily against some of the MAC’s best teams. Since Jan. 26 the Bulls have blown big leads in all their games and have gone 3-1.
“We say in practice that anyone can score,” said junior guard Dontay Caruthers. “It is the guys in practice who can do [defensive] stops, who show up ready to go on defense that really impress.”
Caruthers is coming off a recent leg injury and returned to play on Jan. 19. Since his return he has struggled to produce the same offensive numbers he did earlier in the year. Caruthers has slowly been playing more minutes, while trying to get back to his previous level of play.
Before the injury, Caruthers had several big scoring performances this season. Even after the injury, Oats still considers him one of Buffalo’s best defensive players. Caruthers said time drilling in practice and working on stops are going to help the team in its slump and help him get back into his rhythm.
With the Bulls having seven season games left, they will have to work out these lapses sooner than later. Oats is still confident the team will be playing their best come tournament time, even with less than a month to the MAC Championship.
Oats said during his time with the Bulls he has seen lesser teams go on to be MAC Champions. Oats said those teams worked hard at the end of the year and came to the tournament playing their best basketball. He remains confident his current players have the right mentality to play at their highest potential.
“We got to treat every game like a championship game no matter how good the team is,” said sophomore guard Davonta Jordan. “Every game is the biggest one and you expect every team at their best.”
Jordan, a starter on the team, has turned into a solid guard, playing consistently. Jordan’s strong defensive play led him to a permanent starting position for the team.
Both Jordan and Caruthers said the team has the potential to play just as strong defense as they do offense, but have been lacking finishing ability in their recent games.
“I feel we have the two best defensive guards in the league in Jordan and Caruthers but that doesn’t make us great on defense,” Oats said. “We got to close games and hold a defensive intensity for 40 minutes.”
The Bulls’ next game is against the Northern Illinois Huskies (10-14, 3-8 MAC) who are tied for last in the MAC conference with the Akron Zips (10-13, 3-8 MAC).
“They are a team that plays really tight in the gaps and doesn’t let you get into the lane,” Oats said. “We are going to have to do a good job not turning the ball over against their defense.”
When the Bulls played the Huskies earlier this season, they beat them 95-67 yet that does not give Oats any added confidence. Oats said he saw the Bulls run out of “fire power” last time and is not expecting the same result in the second game. The game is at Northern Illinois with tip off scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org