With crucial tourney seeding on the line, Bulls hit the road

Strong late-season performance could yield coveted triple bye

By OWEN O'BRIEN
On February 25, 2014

  • The Bulls travel to Ohio to face junior forward Maurice Ndour and the Bobcats on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Ndour had 17 points and five blocks in the Bulls’ last matchup with Ohio. Courtesy of Ohio University Athletics

The men's basketball team, which has sole possession of first place in the Mid-American Conference East, is in unchartered territory. On Wednesday, the Bulls look to achieve another rare feat: defeat Ohio.

Buffalo travels to Ohio (19-8, 9-5 MAC) on Wednesday before hosting Miami Ohio (10-15, 6-8 MAC) on Saturday. The Bulls' performance in these two games will determine their seed in the MAC Tournament. The top two teams receive a triple bye all the way to the semifinals. UB is currently No. 3 overall in the MAC, behind West foes Toledo (23-4, 11-3 MAC) and Western Michigan (18-8, 11-3 MAC).

When the Bulls last played Ohio, they held the lead for over 22 minutes, but a late offensive collapse resulted in their lone loss at Alumni Arena this season. Buffalo hit three of its final 11 shots and lost 73-70.

The Bulls have lost their previous seven contests against the Bobcats and haven't defeated them since Jan. 22, 2011. In this stretch, which included an intense 2012 MAC semifinal game, Ohio has cemented itself as one of the team's biggest rivals.

Ohio will secure the tiebreaker over UB with a victory Wednesday. This is a pivotal game for both squads as they chase top seeds in the tournament.

"We've put ourselves in a very good position being in first place [in the East]," said head coach Bobby Hurley. "We have control over our destiny if we continue to play good games the rest of the way."

The Bobcats are 11-4 at home, while the Bulls are just 5-5 on the road.

Buffalo hasn't lost a game since it fell to Ohio. The Bulls have won seven of their last nine. Buffalo has not had sole possession of first place in the MAC East this late in the season since Feb. 26, 2009.

"There are really five schools competing for a four spot, and it was our goal before the season to be in the top four so that we can advance to Cleveland without having to play," Hurley said.

Akron (17-10, 9-5 MAC), which Buffalo defeated last Wednesday, is also in the mix.

Ohio forward Maurice Ndour and guard Nick Kellogg had 17 points apiece in the Feb. 15 game. Kellogg is the MAC's fourth-leading scorer with 15.3 points per game, and he is first in 3-pointers (65).

Senior forward Javon McCrea passed Rasaun Young for most points in school history during the Bulls' last game. McCrea has 1,920 career points, surpassing the 1,908 Young scored from 1993-98. McCrea has scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games, including 31 against Kent State (15-12, 6-8 MAC) Saturday.

McCrea leads the MAC with 18.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. His 57 percent shooting and 57 blocks each rank third in the conference. 

Buffalo returns home to host Miami Ohio on Saturday. The Bulls defeated the RedHawks, 75-62, at Millett Hall Feb. 12. McCrea led all scorers with 25 points on 12-of-14 shooting, and Buffalo shot 49 percent as a team.

The RedHawks have won just one game since Feb. 1. Will Felder leads Miami Ohio with 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Miami Ohio's Quinten Rollins is tied for first in the MAC in steals per game (2.2), and Will Sullivan has been the conference's most efficient shooter (44 percent) from beyond the arc.

Wednesday's contest is set for 7 p.m. at Ohio's Convocation Center, and Saturday's game tips at noon at Alumni Arena.

 

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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