One could easily expect the game would mean something special to the members of the Bulls' senior class. It was senior night, the team's final regular-season home game, and the class was given an emotionally charged pre-game ceremony involving an assortment of players, friends and coaches.
What might not have been seen coming, however, was the great all around performances by the juniors and freshmen.
In as complete a team effort as Buffalo has had all season, the UB men's basketball team trounced the Marshall Thundering Herd 87-62 before a crowd of 2,750 at Alumni Arena Saturday night.
While Saturday night was the final regular-season home game for Louis Campbell, Darcel Williams, Kevin Swoffer, Robert Brown and Gabe Cagwin, the demolition of the Thundering Herd was a major step toward getting a pivotal first-round MAC tournament home game, and one more chance to bring Alumni Arena into a frenzy.
Despite their win, the Bulls (12-15, 7-9 MAC) were unable to gain any ground on Northern Illinois, who kept pace with an 80-70 win against Central Michigan. The two teams are now tied for eighth in the MAC, with Buffalo holding the tiebreaker advantage.
Five Bulls scored in double figures, while Robert Brown and Kevin Swoffer scored nine and seven, respectively. Brown's dunk off a Turner Battle inbound pass five minutes into the second half gave the Bulls their biggest lead of the night, at 60-25.
Brown then turned and posed one last time for the camera, flexing his muscles, and showing just how pumped up this program has become in such a short time. Until this season, it is questionable whether Buffalo would have be able to build a 60-25 lead over UB Head Coach Reggie Witherspoon's alma mater, the ECC Kats.
Saturday, the Bulls obliterated a team with two professional prospects, one many experts had picked as the cream of the MAC crop.
Buffalo used an astonishing 22-0 first half run to burst the game wide open. Marshall Head Coach Greg White attributed much of his team's misfortune to poor point guard play.
"There were five times where we turned the ball over and they had 1-on-0 lay-ups or 2-on-1 lay-ups," White said. "We just handed the ball to them and they ran on down and made a lay-up. We're 26 games into the year and I don't know who my starting point guard is."
Fortunately, Buffalo is set at the point guard spot for the rest of this season and beyond. Battle has suffered through some freshman growing pains at the position, but is now starting to live up to his billing as one of the MAC's finest prospects in years. Saturday, he turned in a Jason Kidd-like performance. Battle tied Williams for the team lead with 17 points, and was only one rebound and two assists shy of the first triple-double of his career.
Witherspoon took Battle out of the game late in the contest to prevent his star freshman from stealing the spotlight on senior night.
"In order for it to be extra special for the seniors, senior night has to be for everybody on the team. They really responded (with) great energy for the entire game," Witherspoon said.
As for the seniors, they held their end of the bargain, too. Williams hit three first-half 3-pointers on his way to 17 points. Swoffer set the tone of the game with two early buckets, including a thunderous dunk. Brown also was a major contributor, and was one of the main reasons the Bulls held a 38-10 margin in points in the paint. Campbell had a solid all-around game, scoring 10 points to go with his six rebounds and six assists.
The only senior who did not get in the scoring was Gabe Cagwin, who was still recovering from a high ankle sprain. Witherspoon inserted Cagwin with 18 seconds remaining, in hopes that the guard could get off one final 3-point field goal. He was blanketed by 6-foot-9 Marshall swingman Tamar Slay, and was unable to get open.
"That's total denial," said Cagwin. "The guy doesn't play a lick of defense all game, and then he's chasing around a cripple for the last 30 seconds."
Slay may have not done much on the defensive end, but he put on a second-half shooting display that showed why he is drawing comparisons to the Indiana Pacers' Reggie Miller and is being projected as a first-round NBA pick.
Slay hit five 3-point field goals in the second half alone, on his way to a game-high 28 points. But, it was too little too late, and the closest Marshall got in the second half was 20, at 75-55.
Buffalo will now travel to Miami, Ohio with payback on their minds for another must-win conference game tonight at 7 at Millett Hall. The RedHawks embarrassed Buffalo 66-52 in their last meeting in Alumni Arena, less than three weeks ago.