Bulls' Bench Explodes to Ground Purple Eagles
Buffalo’s bench outscores Niagara 39-5 on Wednesday night
Senior forward Titus Robinson's play of the bench helped spark the Bulls on Wednesday night. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum
Senior forward Dave Barnett is sick of hearing people tell him to be more aggressive offensively. So sick, in fact, that he decided to do something different on Wednesday night – look to shoot.
Barnett couldn't have picked a better game to channel his aggressive mindset. That's because his three 3-pointers in the game – including a game-winning trifecta in the final minute – helped the Bulls (5-2) win, 82-74. Buffalo had to overcome 18 turnovers and numerous Niagara (3-6, 0-2 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) runs fueled by the home court advantage NU fans provided in "Taps" Gallagher Center.
"I've been in the gym every day practicing on my own," Barnett said. "Before I hit that shot I told our one manager Jordan Hutt, if I get the ball I'm nailing this thing."
Barnett led a bench effort for the ages, as the Bulls outscored the Purple Eagles 39-5 off the bench – 32 of those points came in the first half. Senior forward Titus Robinson and junior guard Tony Watson helped Barnett spark the Bulls.
Robinson had his best game of the season, finishing with a season-high 12 points and three rebounds. He was active on both ends of the floor and his energy helped him finish two three-point plays at critical times in the game. Watson continued his streaky shooting. He hit three huge 3-pointers en route to 12 points, four rebounds, and four assists.
Witherspoon explained after the game how helpful it is to have two starting-caliber players coming off the bench.
"You need guys that can come off the bench: to look at what's going on in the game and then be able to go in and either start a fire or be able to put one out," Witherspoon said. "They're fully capable of doing that on a regular basis."
The Bulls' inability to handle the Purple Eagles' full court press was a major issue that nearly allowed Niagara to come back and steal the game. With just about nine minutes remaining, a 12-point lead, and what seemed like complete control of the game, the Bulls turned it over six times in less than four minutes.
Niagara got as close as two points before Barnett inserted the three-point dagger with 56 seconds remaining. Witherspoon doesn't think his guard play is a weakness and Watson feels his team just needs to continue working to improve its press break.
"We practice seven on five, we just have to stay composed when teams press us," Watson said. "We've got to just be better. The press is something we have had challenges with this season but…we're going to get better at it."
The Purple Eagles are the first team to score over 70 points against the Bulls this season. That stat is extra shocking considering the struggles that Niagara sensation freshman guard Juan'ya Green went through shooting the basketball.
Green scored a career-high, school freshman record 35 points in a loss to Fairfield, which earned him MAAC Rookie of the Week honors. He shot 5 of 8 from three-point range and must have been feeling good from distance.
To say he went cold is an enormous understatement. He couldn't buy a bucket from beyond the arc, going 0 of 8 for the game. He finished with 16 points on 4 of 20 shooting – he went 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
The dynamic duo of senior forward Mitchell Watt and sophomore forward Javon McCrea didn't put up the scoring stat line that fans have become accustomed to, but the pair's defensive effort was noteworthy. Buffalo had the size advantage inside and it showed throughout the game.
McCrea finished with only six points, but the reigning Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year had 13 rebounds (10 defensive), three blocked shots, and two steals. He was active on the defensive end, even challenging Niagara guards near midcourt on hedges.
Watt had 10 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots – he's now only one block away from a tie for second place on UB's all-time list. The glaring stat for Watt, however, was five turnovers.
Senior guard Zach Filzen finished with a game-high 16 points, but that total could have been a lot higher had he been a bit more accurate from beyond the arc. He was feeling it from deep and the Niagara defense was allowing him to get his shot off throughout the game. It may have been the multitude of open looks that had Filzen a smidge off the mark on 75 percent of his three-point attempts.
The Bulls entered the game as the MAC's best rebounding team and their success continued against the Purple Eagles. The Bulls outrebounded Niagara 47-34 and seemed to frustrate the Eagles' big men on the glass all night.
Sophomore guard Auraum Nuiriankh made his first career start in place of Barnett, who suffered a minor leg injury against the Bonnies. Nuiriankh scored five points and grabbed six rebounds in 16 minutes for the Bulls.
The Bulls are back in action on Saturday night when they host Youngstown State (6-2) at 7 p.m. at Alumni Arena.
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