Watt a Season!

Watt, seniors shine late as Bulls clinch bye to semifinals

By NATHANIEL SMITH
On March 4, 2012

  • Senior forward Mitchell Watt gets sent off in style after the Bulls clinched the number two seed in the Mid-American Conference tournament. Meg Kinsley /// The Spectrum

There were M-V-P chants that serenaded from every corner of Alumni Arena Saturday. They were quiet at first. But with every rebound, every free throw attempt and every basket, those chants grew louder, and louder, until the end of the game when the crowd carried the senior leader off the court in exhilaration.

When the clock struck zero, one man put in a performance worthy of the Mid-American Conference's highest individual honor: senior forward Mitchell Watt.

The Bulls (19-9, 12-4 MAC) finished the regular season in style, outlasting Bowling Green (16-14, 9-7 MAC), 68-64 on Saturday night.

The win gives Buffalo its highest tournament seed ever (No. 2) as it heads to Cleveland needing only two wins to advance to its first ever NCAA tournament. Its 12th conference win is also a program best.

But Bowling Green did not make this one easy for the Bulls.

The Falcons were in full control for the first 31 minutes of the game, as they forced Buffalo to shoot under 40 percent in the first half. With 9:04 left in the contest – and a nine-point deficit – it seemed like this Bulls team was in dire straits, desperately looking for a spark.

Head coach Reggie Witherspoon understood the burden that the Bulls faced early on.

"It certainly could have been [pressure]," Witherspoon said. "Your adrenaline is pumping, it's a big crowd, it's senior day, and there's that little voice in your head that says ‘shoot it.' I thought our guys did a great job persevering through some adversity."

Watt and the winningest senior group in Buffalo's history would not be denied of its 78th win together. The seniors answered the bell on senior night.

The senior quartet led the way as the Bulls responded with a 12-0 run, led by Watt. Each senior played a huge role in the Buffalo comeback.

After showing some nerves in the first half, Watt showed why he is a frontrunner for Player of the Year considerations in the MAC. After a frustrating first half, he scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the second. In one sequence, he stole the ball from Falcons' point guard Jordon Crawford at midcourt, and raced to the basket uncontested for a monster slam that sent a packed house of 4,015 to its feet.

Watt also became the 17th player in Buffalo history to score 1,000 career points.

Titus Robinson and Dave Barnett made a number of crucial plays in the second half. Robinson started off the game 1-of-5 from the field, as he was unable to get a look from the low post against a solid Falcons front line.

In the second half, Robinson became the aggressor, as he made crucial defensive stops late on a hot Falcons forward A'uston Calhoun. He also clinched the game, nabbing a crucial rebound in the final seconds and sinking a pair of free throws.

Barnett was very aggressive on the boards as well. He had two late offensive rebounds off of missed shots by the Bulls, both turning into key baskets. He also shocked many in the stands as he took a missed layup from sophomore forward Javon McCrea and slammed it home over the Falcon defenders. He ended with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and a block.

Senior guard Zack Filzen added three more 3-pointers to his career, as he went 3-of-9 from downtown. He leads the MAC in 3-pointers made with 85.

"Being down nine with 10 minutes left, that comeback epitomizes senior leadership," Barnett said. "We came together and didn't let anybody take advantage of us. We just stuck together and got stops and didn't let them take it."

Calhoun played like a man possessed for most of the game. He abused the Bulls early and often, using his arsenal of jump hooks and power moves to the basket for a game-high 23 points.

"My gosh, he's really talented," Witherspoon said. "He has a lot of skills. He can score with his back to the basket, and he can also face up and drive. And he has a motor. To find all that in one package is rare. He's just a tough player to stop."

He was not alone. Crawford and fellow guard Dee Brown knifed their way through the Buffalo zone. Brown finished with 15 points, five assists, and five rebounds. Crawford finished with 13 points. But their efforts weren't enough as they couldn't stop the Bulls in the second half, allowing Buffalo to shoot 65 percent from the field.

The Bulls sit only two wins away from making their first NCAA tournament appearance. They will begin their trek to the big dance in Cleveland, Ohio as they take on the best the MAC has to offer in the MAC Tournament. With the two seed in hand and a ticket to the semifinals set, Buffalo has to wait until Friday to find out its next opponent. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 9:30 p.m.

Email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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