CLEVELAND, OHIO - As chants of "Thank you, UB" rained down from busloads of Mighty Maniacs in attendance, the Buffalo Bulls season of 2003-04 came to an end.
Capitalizing on UB's debilitating foul troubles and the mesmerizing performance of their own Keith Triplett, the Toledo Rockets derailed the streaking train that had carried Buffalo into their first-ever appearance in Cleveland's Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup on Thursday night.
Toledo now advances after the 97-85 victory in the Gund Arena and will face the No. 1 seed Western Michigan Broncos Friday at 6:30 p.m.
"The level (of intensity) increases big time," said UB's Turner Battle on playing for the first time in Cleveland. "You have guys that are seniors that don't want to play their last game. You have nothing to lose and have to put it all on the line."
"We scored enough points to usually win," said Bulls' head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "But we didn't stop them enough."
Triplett, a senior guard for the Rockets that lead them both in points (19) and rebounds (4.8) on the season, was lights-out all night long. He torched the Bulls again and again, dropping 29 points on UB on a 9-17 performance from the field.
"Triplett looked like he could play for another 80 minutes," said Witherspoon. "He looked like he had everything completely under control. When that happens it is difficult."
In a close-fought first half in which the lead changed 10 times, the Bulls seemed ready to take charge when they had a 42-38 lead after a Jason Bird three-pointer.
The surge however, was muffled when Yassin Idbihi appeared to roll his ankle and was forced to sit out.
Although Idbihi returned soon after, the damage had already been done and the Rockets took a three-point lead into halftime. Toledo would never relinquish that lead.
"He has had foot problems and ankle problems since maybe the fourth game of the season," said Witherspoon of Idbihi. "We knew it wasn't going to get any better till he could take a long time off."
Buffalo shot a hot 53 percent in the first half, but Toledo countered with a blistering-hot performance that included a percentage of 63 from the field as well as 70 percent from downtown.
The Bulls fought hard in the second half, coming within two after a Calvin Cage three-pointer, but for every move UB made, Toledo came right back to douse their fire.
Foul trouble handicapped Buffalo in the second half, as Turner Battle, Bird, Idbihi and Daniel Gilbert were all in dangerous territory.
Some of the calls that went against UB may have been questionable.
"My parents told me that if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all," said Witherspoon of the referee calls.
Battle played a valiant game for the Bulls, scoring 23 points in 35 minutes of play.
Buffalo must now look to a possible shot at the National Invitational Tournament or next season in which they will return with their entire squad intact, thanks to the lack of one single senior on this year's team.