Buffalo's second game against Miami of Ohio in nine days shared many similarities with the first. Once again, it was a physical game where loose balls and turnovers made the difference. Once again, Miami went on a big run to open the second half, putting UB in a hole they could not climb out of. And just like the other two contests, Buffalo's solid 50-percent shooting from the field was offset by Miami advantages in rebounding and turnovers.
But this time, the Bulls will not have a chance to avenge the loss. Their season is over.
Monday night's 71-60 defeat at the hands of the RedHawks in Millett Hall sent Buffalo on a somber 10-hour bus ride that pulled in at Alumni Arena Tuesday after dawn, and gave Miami a ticket to Cleveland to play the second-seeded Ball State Cardinals in the MAC quarterfinals this Thursday night.
Trailing by one at the half (27-26), the emphasis for Buffalo must have been to come out of the gates strong and prevent Miami from taking command as they had done with runs to open the second halves of both previous contests. Turner Battle's 3-pointer in the first minute of the second half gave Buffalo a 29-27 lead and sent a collective stir through the 3,126 in attendance, who have seen their team compete in the MAC Championship Game for the last five years and weren't expecting too much trouble with the upstart Bulls.
As it turned out, they needn't have worried. Miami then went on a decisive 15-2 run capped off by a Doug Davis jumper to go up 42-31. While Buffalo fought valiantly and chipped away at the lead, the closest they would come was within seven, on three separate occasions.
UB Head Coach Reggie Witherspoon realized his team didn't do enough to overcome the lone big run of the ball game.
"Teams are going to make a run, particularly when they are at home. We have to respond to them and we didn't," said Witherspoon. "If you don't respond on the road, you find yourselves in a hole, and we didn't respond very well."
Buffalo's senior class, which has been instrumental to UB's success this season, was effectively bottled up by Miami's tenacious defense. Darcel Williams, Buffalo's leading scorer this season, was shadowed all game by Eugene Seals.
"Eugene's been our defensive specialist the last part of the year. Whatever Darcel [couldn't do] is all credit to Eugene," said Miami guard Alex Shorts. Williams was one of five from the floor, and finished up with seven points.
Shorts was one of five RedHawks to finish in double figures, scoring 13 points while going 5-6 from the floor. It seemed every time Buffalo threatened to go on a run in the second half, Shorts answered with a tough shot while the 35-second shot clock was winding down.
"Alex is the only guy who can do that for us; hit a shot, time running out, tough shot, unorthodox," said RedHawks Head Coach Charlie Coles.
Turnovers and officiating, pivotal to the teams' last match-up, were also central to Monday's contest. Buffalo had only two more turnovers than Miami, at 15-13. But the RedHawks scored 25 points off Buffalo's miscues, compared to only 11 points off turnovers for the Bulls.
UB's fledgling program, in only their fourth season in the MAC, didn't expect any favors from the refs against Miami, a charter member and the conference's crown jewel - and they didn't get any.
The referees seemed to grow increasingly fond of the sound of their own whistles as the game went on, calling a series of fouls against Buffalo as UB desperately tried to creep back into the contest.
The most notable was a phantom push-off call on Louis Campbell after he had gotten loose for an open 3-point attempt that would have pulled the Bulls to within four with 40 seconds left. Instead, Miami's Juby Johnson knocked down two foul shots to increase the lead to nine and put the game out of reach. For the game, Buffalo was called for 20 fouls, which Miami converted into 19 of 25 from the foul line.
Campbell, in his last game as a Bull, was held to only eight points. He did manage to score the last five points of the first half to pull Buffalo to within one at the intermission, but was not a factor in the second
"Louis was around to see a lot of turmoil. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes that didn't have us up to snuff a little bit," Witherspoon reflected. "I'm glad that he at least had a chance to experience some success before he leaves."
Battle's performance Monday exemplified why Buffalo should continue to improve next season despite losing five seniors. The freshman scored a game-high 16 points, and almost single handedly kept the Bulls in the contest with his second-half 3-point shooting. Battle went four of five from behind the arc before fouling out in the last minute.
All four freshmen saw a significant amount of court time and factored in the scoresheets.
Buffalo finishes the season at 12-18, 7-12 MAC. Miami improved to 13-17, 10-9 MAC, and most importantly, won themselves another game.
Miami's Shorts summarized the win or go home mentality that is March Madness.
"This is when the true players come out. It's my last game if I lose, and I'm not ready to quit playing yet. It's all or nothing, that's it," said Shorts.
Buffalo, one of the most improved teams in the country, will not make any more strides this season. As Shorts said it best, "that's it" for the Bulls.