Bulls drop final two games of tournament
Young squad, now 1-4, suffering growing pains
Senior shooting guard Tony Watson suffered a right ankle injury against Western Illinois and was unable to return for the remainder of the tournament. Nick Fischetti /// The Spectrum
It was a cold weekend for the men's basketball team. As temperatures dipped in Evansville, Ind. amid the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, so did the Bulls' shooting percentage.
The Bulls were unable to build on their opening-game tournament victory as cold shooting, backbreaking second half runs and a key injury plagued the Bulls (1-4) over the weekend. They fell 67-58 to Western Illinois (2-2) on Friday and 63-59 to Yale (1-3) on Saturday evening at the Ford Center.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for a team just trying to find its legs on offense early in the season.
"We're still going through that transition," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "The guys that are shooting them haven't been in this situation before and we're kind of going through it and learning it the hard way."
Buffalo started off strong against Western Illinois, a team UB battled with in the '90s as part of the now-defunct Mid-Continent Conference. As the first half trickled down, senior guard Tony Watson took a three-point shot that was eventually tipped in off a rebound by junior forward Javon McCrea. As Watson came down from the jump shot, though, he landed awkwardly on his right ankle. Unable to put pressure on that ankle, he was led off the court by a trainer and sophomore forward Xavier Ford.
Watson didn't return for the rest of the tournament and the Bulls' offense struggled as a result, ending the game shooting 33 percent from the field in the second half. A number of players stepped up, as three Buffalo players finished with double-digit scoring. McCrea and sophomore forward Will Regan, who both scored 13, and junior guard Jarod Oldham, who finished with 11 points after a scoreless first half, led the squad.
"In the second half, we dried up offensively," Witherspoon said. "They packed into the lane and we had some open shots that we didn't take."
The Leathernecks were too much for the Bulls, using a 9-3 run in the second half to pull away. Guard Ceola Clark's scoring and forward Don McAvoy's all-around play on the offensive and defensive ends provided the impetus. Clark ended the game scoring 19 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including three baskets from downtown. McAvoy nearly had a triple-double, scoring nine points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out eight assists.
The inconsistent shooting continued for the Bulls in the tournament finale against Yale - a game that was a struggle for both teams from the field. The Bulldogs and the Bulls each shot 34 percent in the contest. McCrea had an off night shooting, going only 2 for 11 from the field, but he made up for it at the free throw line, converting on 13 out of 14 shots - the best performance in his career at the charity stripe. He led all scorers with 17 points.
He was aided by Oldham, who finished with a double-double, scoring 16 points on 5-for-15 shooting and adding 10 rebounds. No other Bulls player finished with more than eight points.
Despite the Bulldogs' cold shooting in the second half, they were able to pull out the victory from the free throw line in a foul-ridden affair. Yale shot 21 free throws to Buffalo's eight.
Second half runs by the opposition have been backbreakers for UB. It's something that comes with the lack of experience, according to Witherspoon.
"I think our effort is good," Witherspoon said. "The guys really want it. We just don't have enough experience right now. We just don't have enough experienced guys going down the stretch, making decisions that enable us to have the kind of poise that we need."
With a single win in five matches so far, the Bulls will look for some positive momentum as they come back home for a road matchup on Tuesday night against cross-town rival Canisius (2-0) at the Koessler Center. Tip off for the game is slated for 8 p.m.
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