Bobcats Shell-Shocked by Bulls Comeback
Byron Mulkey (#2) and the Bulls pulled off the biggest comeback since the program entered the MAC against Ohio. Clinton Hodnett /// The Spectrum
If you turned off your TV at halftime on Saturday afternoon when the men's basketball team trailed by 18 points, you missed your chance to witness history.
People should be forgiven, however, for turning the channel because the Bulls' (11-6, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) performance in the first half left a lot to be desired. But head coach Reggie Witherspoon's halftime speech helped give his team exactly what it needed to complete the largest comeback since joining the MAC in a 73-68 shocker over Ohio (8-11, 1-4 MAC).
"[At halftime] we talked about staying together," Witherspoon said. "I thought we kind of came unraveled a little bit [in the first half]…Our communication needed to be better and I think that led to our determination."
The Bobcats led at halftime 43-25 and had their 10,427 fans in attendance primed for a blowout victory celebration. Junior guard Zach Filzen and freshman forward Javon McCrea had other plans and they ignited the Bulls with their energetic and timely play. As a team, the Bulls shot a staggering 72 percent in the second half.
In the previous four games, Filzen had been invisible while fighting through his first shooting slump of the season. In that stretch, he shot only 24 percent from the field. His troubles continued throughout the first half against Ohio, but, after the break, a different player came out of the locker room.
Filzen scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half to tie his career-high. His six 3-pointers in the game were a career-best, and Witherspoon felt his play really lifted the Bulls down the stretch.
"He really got it going," Witherspoon said. "Once we spread their post players out some they weren't quite sure how to approach [guarding Zach]…I think that really caused them to be in a dilemma defensively."
With just over 15 minutes remaining, the Bulls ripped off a 20-4 scoring run, capturing the lead for the first time and holding it until the final buzzer.
McCrea finished just shy of another double-double with 21 points and eight rebounds. He did a little bit of everything for the Bulls, as the Bobcats couldn't find an answer for the freshman on either end of the court.
Witherspoon thought McCrea played well but that other players made life easier for the first-year sensation.
"He got himself going there after a while," Witherspoon said. "The important thing is he did that in 24 minutes. The performance by Jawaan Alston, while statistically unimpressive, allowed McCrea to roam a little bit."
Buffalo committed only four turnovers in the second half, which helped it stage the comeback. In the opening half, the Bulls seemed confused by the Bobcats' defense and were unable to find any type of rhythm. Senior guard Byron Mulkey was held scoreless before intermission but recovered nicely in the second, finishing with 12 points in the game.
When that final horn went off, Mulkey held the ball tight and danced up the court to celebrate with his teammates, showing just how important this win was for the Bulls.
"For us to be able to turn it around in here and in front of their big crowd made it all the sweeter," Witherspoon said. "Our team feels charged up…The energy we brought to start the second half was great."
The trio of Mulkey, Filzen, and McCrea scored 56 of the Bulls' 73 points.
Bobcats standout D.J. Cooper played well in the first half against the Bulls but was neutralized in the second. He finished with six points, eight assists, and five rebounds but committed four turnovers and had only two assists after the break.
Cooper entered Saturday's game ranked third in the country in assists. Filzen knew they'd have to slow him down but was confident in his teammate who drew the defensive assignment.
"[Cooper's] a heck of a player," Filzen said. "But we have a pretty good point guard too [Mulkey] Our post players did a great job not letting him get into the lane."
The Bulls have to put this win behind them as another MAC road game follows against Western Michigan (10-8, 3-2 MAC). The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday night at University Arena.
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