House of Blues
Bulls fall to Kent State, ending season in MAC quarterfinals
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 19:03
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.