Buffalo looks to best Bobcats in semifinal
UB takes on Ohio in a rematch in the MAC tournament. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum
One hundred nineteen days, 28 games, and it all comes down to this: the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The men's basketball team sits just two wins away from its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, but to get there it will have to get through the team that's given it the most difficulty this season.
There's only one team in the MAC that Buffalo (19-9, 12-4 MAC) has yet to beat this season, Ohio (25-7, 12-5 MAC). Luckily (or not, depending on how you look at it) the Bulls have one more chance to accomplish the task, and this time it means more.
On Friday night at 9:30 p.m., when the two teams tip off, there will be only three teams remaining in the MAC tournament. The winner will be one game closer to the big dance, but the 40 minutes of basketball standing between Buffalo and the finals will be a war between two top tier teams.
Guard play was the difference the last two times these teams met. Buffalo is known for its play in the paint, with two first team All-MAC forwards in the starting five, but the team's weakness has been its inconsistent play on the perimeter.
Ohio's backcourt combo of junior guards Walter Offutt and D.J. Cooper have dominated. Defenses, including Buffalo's, have struggled to contain them all year.
"D.J. Cooper is fueling the whole system," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon prior to the teams' Feb. 22 matchup. "When their energy level is high they're very difficult to play against."
In the two matchups this season, Cooper averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. Offutt, on the other, hand lit Buffalo up for 23 points in the February matchup to lead all scorers.
Buffalo's guards played sloppily in those contests, turning the ball over 37 times combined. The normally sharpshooting senior guard Zach Filzen only averaged seven points per game against Ohio this year.
The backcourt isn't the only place where the Bobcats have outshined the Bulls. Ohio came into Buffalo and snared 21 offensive rebounds in the last meeting. Buffalo ranked third in the nation in rebounding at the time. After that contest, Witherspoon attributed the problem to lack of effort.
"We got our hands on [the rebounds]," Witherspoon said. "We weren't men about it and they were."
The loss at home was one of Buffalo's more disappointing ones of the year. However, after that contest, sophomore forward Javon McCrea vowed to "fix it," and the Bulls have done just that. Buffalo is on a three-game winning streak heading into the semifinal contest – one that has afforded it the opportunity to play one less game than the Bobcats. Ohio comes in having to play back-to-back games after beating Toledo on Thursday night.
The game will tip off at approximately 9:30 p.m. from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The winner will face off against Kent State (21-10, 11-6 MAC) on Saturday at 8 p.m.
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