Sour apples: Bulls go cold late as they fall short to Cougars in Emerald City
After a long 13-day hiatus, the men's basketball team was dealt a significant blow prior to its return to action when starting junior point guard Jarod Oldham went down with a wrist injury.
An undermanned Buffalo (4-8) team's first trip to the Apple State was an unpleasant one, as a cold second half led to the team falling late to Washington State (8-4), 65-54, in the 2012 Cougar Hardwood Classic at the Key Arena in Seattle, Wash.
In place of Oldham, who suffered a wrist injury during practice, freshman guard Jarryn Skeete slid in the point guard position and was aggressive from the tip, making the first shot of the game - a three-pointer - to give the Bulls the quick lead. He scored a career-high nine points and pulled down four rebounds.
"I thought he got off to a good start," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "He struggled a little bit at times, but that's to be expected. We did not turn the ball over a lot, and that's good."
In the first meeting in 52 years between Buffalo and Washington State, the Bulls fought throughout against the Pac-12 team and kept the contest close. The Bulls took a halftime lead, 37-35, and led as late as 6:44 in the game; they held a 49-48 lead after a basket by junior forward Auraum Nuiriankh.
The very next possession, Nuiriankh appeared to bump into a WSU player, but the call was made on junior forward Javon McCrea, who received his fourth foul and was sent to the bench as a result. After a missed free throw on the front end of the 1-and-1, Washington State's senior forward Brock Motum grabbed an offensive rebound and then put the ball back in the basket. Motum scored seven straight points for the Cougars during that stretch and put the game away for good.
Overall, it was a tale of two very different halves, as the Bulls were unable to string together 40 minutes of consistent offensive production. They were scorching hot in the first and shot 56 percent from the field, but the team shot only a frigid 21 percent in the second, including a single field goal in the last seven minutes of the ball game as the Cougars were able to pull away from Buffalo.
Witherspoon attributed the offensive drought to the lack of missed easy baskets.
"You give them credit; they were probably better defensively in the second half than in the first half," Witherspoon said. "But we got so many layups that had to be converted. You have to convert those. On the road, when you get right to the rim, you have to come up with those. Those are big plays."
Senior guard Tony Watson had one of the best games of his career and came one point short of his a career-high in points, with a team-high 18 points Friday night. Nuiriankh was the only other Bull with double figures in scoring, knocking down three 3-point shots en route to a 13-point, seven-rebound performance.
Defensively, Buffalo was unable to stop the Cougars and allowed Washington State to shoot 43.7 percent from the field in the game, including 10 baskets from downtown. When the Cougars were unable to make baskets, they made up for it on the offensive end and snagged 11 rebounds, edging the Bulls in the rebound battle by a 32-30 margin. Sophomore guard DaVonte Lacy led the team with a game-high 19 points, and Motum carried the Cougars late, scoring 15 points in the contest.
"I think our energy level [on defense] was very very spotty," Witherspoon said. "The bottom line is that we have some guys that are waiting for someone else to do it, and there's no one else to defer to. When that happens, you're sort of playing yourself into a submissive package mentally, and you can't do that. It leaves us in a very vulnerable position."
The Bulls return home as they take on NAIA Notre Dame College (Ohio) at Alumni Arena. Tipoff on Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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