Despite sloppy play, men’s basketball wins conference opener
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 9, 2014 00:01
The men’s basketball team opened its Mid-American Conference schedule against Northern Illinois on Wednesday night with a 16-0 run in the first six minutes of the game. Over the next 14 minutes, the Bulls scored eight points.
Despite their poor play in the latter half of the first period, the Bulls came out strong in the second half, outscoring the Huskies 43-26 to put them away for good.
Buffalo (7-4, 1-0 MAC) defeated the Huskies (6-7, 0-1 MAC) 67-46 in its conference opener in front of a crowd of 1,520 at Alumni Arena.
“We had opportunities to really put them away that we didn’t take advantage of,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “We had a travel in the open court that should have been a layup and some ways that we could have gotten further ahead of them and really break their will. Once they did get back in the game, it was kind of like you let something get away from you. We had to refocus and realize that it’s a 40-minute game and we’ll have to put them away in the second half.”
The Bulls’ sloppy play hit a crescendo just before halftime. Freshman guard Shannon Evans attempted a field goal with 4.7 seconds left in the half and was fouled. After the whistle, senior forward Javon McCrea was called for a dead ball technical foul, which caused the small Alumni Arena crowd to erupt with boos. It was the loudest the arena got all night.
On the Northern Illinois possession following the foul shots, the Huskies turned the ball over and it looked like senior guard Joshua Freelove would have a breakaway, but play was blown dead when the referee ruled he carried the ball. The crowd again burst into boos.
Hurley was called for a technical foul after addressing the ref following the play, allowing the Huskies to cut the lead to four points at the half.
“That was a circus,” Hurley said. “The last four or five minutes of that half there were a lot of crazy things happening. We had to come out hungry and ready to play [in the second half].”
The Bulls scored 14 points in the first five minutes of the second half and extended their lead to 17.
Good decision-making and hot shooting fueled Buffalo’s second half. Freelove was a big part of that, scoring all 10 of his points in the final 20 minutes, shooting 4 for 7 including 2 for 3 from behind the arch.
“I just had to keep my head,” Freelove said. “I missed a lot of shots, but I just had to keep shooting and I kept confident.”
Junior forward Will Regan led all scorers with 15 points, going 5 for 8 with six rebounds. Senior forward Javon McCrea had 14 points for the Bulls along with eight rebounds and a career-high eight blocks.
Hurley praised McCrea after the game for his ability to draw defenders into the lane and his willingness to kick the ball out, opening up shots for his teammates.
The other Bull to score in double digits was freshman guard Shannon Evans. Evans scored nine first-half points, helping the Bulls race out to an early lead, but fell silent until the waning seconds of the game when he hit two free throws.
The game was the Bulls’ first since Dec. 29, when they defeated Drexel (8-4), 55-52, in Philadelphia.
With the win, the Bulls improve their record in Alumni Arena to 6-0. It is the Bulls’ third straight victory.
Buffalo continues its conference schedule when it hosts Eastern Michigan (9-5, 1-0 MAC) on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.