Men's basketball faces tough slate this week

By TOM DINKI
On February 11, 2014

After playing the bottom two teams in the Mid-American Conference last week, the men's basketball team faces a greater challenge this week.

The Bulls (13-7, 7-3 MAC) will play on the road against Miami Ohio (9-12, 5-5 MAC) Wednesday night and return to Alumni Arena Saturday afternoon to face Ohio (17-6, 7-3 MAC). Buffalo enters the week tied with Ohio and two games ahead of the RedHawks.

The Bulls have been hot as of late, as they have won four of their past five games by at least nine points.

Senior forward Javon McCrea took advantage of the inferior competition last week, winning MAC East Player of the Week after averaging 22 points and 17 rebounds in games against Ball State (4-17, 1-9 MAC) and Central Michigan (8-14, 1-9 MAC). McCrea climbed up the all-time school scoring list as well, moving into third place all-time in points and in rebounds, with a career-high 20-rebound performance against the Chippewas.

"Javon has made a commitment all year," said head coach Bobby Hurley. "He's been rebounding the ball better, so he's made a huge jump in that department. He's just hard to deal with on the inside and he's been expanding his game where he can step away and make shots. He's the complete package for us."

Ohio and Miami Ohio faced each other in each team's last game, Feb. 8. The RedHawks led 47-32 at halftime, but Ohio mounted a second-half comeback and won 82-75 at home.

Miami Ohio began conference play 4-2, but the team has since lost three of its last four. One of the RedHawks' biggest strengths is creating turnovers, as they are second in the MAC in steals per game with 8.5.

"Miami plays a unique style," Hurley said. "They like to pressure the ball and they look to create turnovers. We're going to have to take care of the basketball."

The RedHawks' offense took a hit earlier this season when their second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Reggie Johnson, left the team after nine games to transfer (his destination has not been announced). Johnson had been averaging 11.8 points a game.

The only other double-digit scorer on the team is senior forward Will Felder, who is leading the RedHawks in both points (14.4) and rebounds (7.3) per game this season. Hurley called Felder one of the best inside players in the conference.

Despite ranking last in the MAC in three-point shooting percentage, Miami Ohio has the conference leader in three-point shooting percentage in junior guard Will Sullivan. Sullivan is shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc this season. The matchup between Sullivan and the Bulls' MAC-leading three-point-shooting defense will play a key role in determining the outcome of Wednesday's game.

Two Ohio players score at least 15 points per game - junior forward Maurice Ndour and senior guard Nick Kellogg. Ndour and Kellogg average nearly seven points higher than the next closest player on the team (junior guard Stevie Taylor averages 8.8 points a game).

Ndour is in his first season with the Bobcats after transferring from Monroe College. Ndour has made the transition from junior college basketball well, leading Ohio in points (15.5) and rebounds per game (7.9).

Kellogg is averaging a career-high 15 points per game in his senior season, six points better than his next highest season average. He is shooting 46 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from three-point range this season.

Ohio has also won four of its past five games.

The Bulls are just 3-7 away from Alumni Arena, although they defeated the Chippewas by nine points on the road in their previous road game. Miami Ohio is 5-3 at home this season.

"We let a couple [on the road] get away from us," Hurley said. "One was a buzzer shot; it was really hard to take that one. I think we're OK on the road and we have the same mindset going in."

The schedule does not get any easier for the Bulls after they face Ohio on Saturday. Buffalo faces the top-ranked team in the MAC East, Akron (16-7, 8-2 MAC), twice, and four of its final six regular-season games are against teams with MAC records of .500 or better.

The Bulls face off against the RedHawks in Oxford, Ohio, Wednesday at 7 p.m. and tip off against the Bobcats at Alumni Arena Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

 

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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