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Bulls fall to Kent State, ending season in MAC quarterfinals

Editor in Chief

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013

Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 19:03

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

The Bulls' starting five huddle before tipping off in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals against Kent State. The Golden Flashes won all three matchups between the two teams this year.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Senior guard Tony Watson soars for a first-half lay-up over Kent State's Bryson Pope. Watson totaled 23 points and 11 rebounds in his final game as a Buffalo Bull.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Kent State forward Chris Evans (5) scoops in a tough runner in the final minutes. Evans, a first-team All-MAC selection, scored 25 points, including eight in the final 2:20.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Sophomore forward Will Regan stretches for a rebound. Regan, who scored 36 points in the Bulls' win over Ball State Wednesday, totaled 14 points and four rebounds.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Junior forward Javon McCrea, a first-team All-MAC selection, explodes for a dunk in the first half. McCrea scored 20 points and gathered four rebounds.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Point guard Jarryn Skeete looks for an open man. Skeete, a true freshman, scored seven points and performed admirably this year filling in for injured star junior Jarod Oldham (wrist).

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Junior forward Auraum Nuiriankh is called for a charge in the second half. Nuiriankh, the Bulls' starting small forward, scored just three points in UB's two games in Cleveland.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Watson looks to drive baseline against his opponent, Kent State's Randal Holt. Watson added five assists and played the entire 40 minutes.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Regan looks for room against Pope. Regan averaged 25 points in his two career-first games in Cleveland.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Watson passes out of a double team.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

McCrea scans the floor for a cutting teammate as Kent State's Darren Goodson (42) defends.

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Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

Nuiriankh hits a pivotal 3-pointer to cut Kent State's lead to 66-64 with 57 seconds remaining.

CLEVELAND – They just missed the cut-off.

There was a benchmark for the men’s basketball team this year: Score 70 or more points and win the game. Score fewer and lose.

The No. 8 seed Bulls’ 68 points were not quite enough to best No. 4 Kent State in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals in Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night. The Bulls finish their season – which many dubbed a rebuilding year – 14-20 (7-9 MAC).

“Beating a team three times in one season is never an easy thing to do,” said Kent State guard Randal Holt, who scored 17 points. “They know your plays; you know their plays. You scout them; they scout you. It really just comes down to who’s going to execute down the stretch and who’s going to play harder and come up with those loose balls and rebounds and get defensive stops when you need them.”

It was Kent State that pulled through. Golden Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff said had the game gone on another four minutes, there might have been three or four more lead changes. He felt fortunate it ended when it did.

The Bulls went 4-17 this year when they scored fewer than 70 points and 10-3 when they scored 70 or more. Unlike the past two years, it is doubtful the squad will be selected to play in a postseason tournament.

“Obviously, there are a few shots we’d like to have, a few possessions we’d like to have,” said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. “I’m really proud of the effort of our guys. I think there are very few people when the conference season started who thought we’d be in this position.”

Kent State outrebounded the Bulls 38-30 and scored 19 fast-break points to Buffalo’s two. Senior forward Chris Evans, a first-team All-MAC selection, took over down the stretch, scoring eight points in the final 2:20. He finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds.

Witherspoon cycled between defenders but could not find one who could shut Evans down.

“He has the dexterity of a perimeter player and size of a post,” Witherspoon said.

The Bulls led 32-30 at halftime and maintained the advantage, which ballooned as large as eight points, until Kent State took the lead with 7:02 remaining. The final minutes were a back-and-forth battle.

Senior guard Tony Watson paced the Bulls in his final game. He went out in typical Tony Watson Style by scoring 23 points and hitting four 3-pointers and Not-So Tony Watson Style by hauling in 11 rebounds.

“He was really, really big for our team to have a chance to beat the teams in the top of the conference,” Witherspoon said, explaining that Watson willingly accepted any role from sixth man to go-to scorer. “With us being this inexperienced, him and [junior forward Javon McCrea], they found themselves in a situation where all their teammates sort of evaporated.

“He stayed positive the whole time.”

Watson played the entire 40 minutes and added five assists. He drove the length of the court and finished a lay-up just before the final buzzer sounded.

“They were able to make one more bucket than us,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who have matured a lot over this year, and they know what they have to do. Those guys are going to be back next year, and they’re going to be a better Buffalo team.”

McCrea added 20 points and four rebounds and sophomore forward Will Regan, who scored 36 points in the Bulls’ win over Ball State Wednesday, added 14 points. McCrea said he knows now, heading into his final season, it’s his last shot to win a MAC Championship. He plans on “going all-out.” Like Evans, McCrea made first-team All-MAC.

“[McCrea] is an absolute monster,” Senderoff said. “There’s no other way to describe it. He’s so good that it’s almost impossible to guard him.”

Forward Darren Goodson added 12 points for Kent State.

The Golden Flashes advance to face No. 1 seed Akron (24-6, 14-2 MAC) in the semifinals on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

 

Email: sports@ubspectrum.com

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