Sweep Dreams, Akron!
Second-half run keeps Bulls alive for number one seed
Buffalo pulled off one of the biggest wins in program history on Wednesday night at the JAR center. The Bulls upset conference-leading Akron putting themselves in position to control their own destiny within the Mid-American Conference. Courtesy of Jeff Harwell
It started out as a festive senior night in Akron, Ohio. The home fans were packed into a hot James A. Rhodes Center, ready to cheer their team to a historic victory. They were looking to clinch their first-ever number one seed in the men's Mid-American Conference tournament.
They came in having never seen their team fall to a MAC opponent at home this year.
They left utterly shocked and disappointed.
The Bulls (18-9, 11-4 MAC) fought fire with fire, using a scorching second half performance to shock the MAC-leading Akron (20-10, 12-3 MAC) again with a thrilling 74-70 victory Wednesday night.
It was the first time Buffalo swept a season series over the Zips since the '03-'04 season.
"It's been a while since we swept them," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "It's a great program with a lot of resources. Our guys did a great job of persevering and coming in here and taking them on in front of a senior night crowd. They locked in and played with great energy, and they really had great poise down the stretch."
Many different Bulls players stepped up big time under tremendous adversity.
Junior guard Tony Watson was hurt and did not practice for the last couple of days, but he came through when the Bulls needed him most. He scored a career-high 14 points, with nine of them being the team's final points of the game. That included a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe, as Buffalo's best shooter from the line sealed Akron's fate.
For the first time in his college career, senior forward Mitchell Watt's parents attended one of his games. He made his family proud, delivering another dominant performance: 22 points, six rebounds, and a block.
This is his sixth game with at least 20 points on the season, and in the last five games Watt has become a physical force on offense. He's making a strong case for MAC player of the year, averaging 20 points and seven rebounds over the last five games.
Sophomore forward Javon McCrea and senior forward Titus Robinson also had solid performances against the fierce front line of the Zips. McCrea had 13 points, and five rebounds, despite spending a good portion of the game in foul trouble. Robinson had eight points, three rebounds, and a block. On the offensive end, the Bulls had no problem taking it to the MAC's leading shot-blocker in Zeke Marshall.
"They went right at him, and that's what you have to do to a shot blocker," Witherspoon said. "We got some good looks at the basket. I thought when we moved it and didn't worry about what was going to happen and didn't try to make individual plays and played together as a team we did a tremendous job."
On defense, Buffalo once again locked down the talented Akron bigs. Although they had a few players, like Marshall and forward Nikola Cvetinovic score 10 and 11 points respectively, they struggled to get their shots. The other forward, Quincy Diggs, was left scoreless.
The starting front line shot a combined 38 percent from the field, and it totaled only eight rebounds combined. The Bulls did their job, and made life hard for the Zips in the paint.
"I thought Javon, Titus and Mitch did a tremendous job rotating, keeping each other fresh, and staying locked in defensively," Witherspoon said.
In contrast, Buffalo shot a scalding 52 percent from the field, with a vast majority of those points coming in the paint. The Bulls were able to outscore the Zips down low by a 40-36 margin.
With the win, the Bulls have clinched a top four seed and with that, they get a bye into the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament in Cleveland, Ohio. Looking ahead, the Bulls can earn a MAC regular season title if they beat their final opponent at home in Bowling Green (16-13, 9-6 MAC), and if Akron loses its finale to its hated rivals, Kent State (20-9, 10-5 MAC).
Buffalo will be celebrating their seniors on Saturday against the Falcons. Tipoff for the game is scheduled for 6 p.m.
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