Bulls win dogfight
Buffalo claims battle of the boards to seal victory
Tony Watson (1) hit three 3-pointers to help the Bulls defeat Northern Illinois on Saturday. Watson finished with 14 points and a game-high 40 minutes played. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum
The men's basketball team went to Michigan twice last week and lost by a combined 30 points. Midway through the Mid-American Conference schedule, desperation is brewing for a team that was one of the best in the conference last season.
On Saturday, the Bulls (9-15, 4-6 MAC) outlasted Northern Illinois (5-17, 3-7 MAC), 59-54. The Huskies went on a 7-0 run with 4:27 left and had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer in the final minute, but the shot clanked off the rim, resulting in the Bulls coasting to victory.
"We knew they were a gritty, grind-it-out team and they were that way today," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "They were going to force us to grind with them and it's good to be on the winning side."
The Bulls struggled offensively but accrued 17 of their points off turnovers and second-chance points.
Three Bulls players eclipsed double digits, including junior forward Javon McCrea, who had 16 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists.
McCrea helped jumpstart the Bulls' offense in the second half, going on a 6-0 run by himself.
"It was a very well-played ball game on both sides of the floor," said Northern Illinois head coach Mark Montgomery. "McCrea was definitely the difference, hitting a 360 shot to start the second half. They're a good team and you can see they are getting better."
Senior guard Tony Watson has played at least 37 minutes in each of the Bulls' last six games and didn't sub out for one second on Saturday.
Watson added 14 points and will continue his consistent minutes due to news that that junior guard Jarod Oldham will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
"I'm definitely [feeling it]. I'm with the trainer everyday," Watson said. "The coaches have a great system in place. We are drinking a lot of protein shakes and getting a lot of rest.
Junior forward Auraum Nuiriankh scored 10 points (2 for 9 from the field) and snatched 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
Nuiriankh's most vital rebound came on the Huskies potential game-tying 3-pointer with 22 seconds left in regulation.
"When he can get you extra effort on a night when he's not shooting well, there's a chance he might be growing in the right direction," Witherspoon said about Nuiriankh's development this season.
In two losses to Eastern and Western Michigan, the Bulls were out-rebounded by a total of 14 rebounds.
At halftime, Northern Illinois had the rebounding advantage, but Buffalo turned things around and finished with a 34-30 advantage.
"We got outrebounded the last two games," Witherspoon said. "I don't remember the last time we got outrebounded two games in a row. It's something we pride ourselves on."
The Bulls will remain at home as Toledo (10-10, 6-3 MAC) comes to Buffalo on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
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