Mulkey Steals Show
The men's basketball team played its third Big Four rivalry game of the season on Wednesday night, and its opponent came into Alumni Arena with hopes of stealing a win from the Bulls.
Too bad for the Niagara Purple Eagles (2-7, 0-2 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) that senior point guard Byron Mulkey – the nation's steals leader – beat them to it.
For their third straight home game, the Bulls (5-3) scored more than 80 points and thus remain unbeaten at home after an 82-64 victory over Niagara. The win gives Buffalo a record of 2-1 against its Big Four rivals this season.
Mulkey finished the game with five steals, but it was the final one that put the nail in the coffin for the Purple Eagles. With just under six minutes remaining in the contest, he ripped the ball from a Niagara player and took it coast-to-coast, finishing with an and-one layup to put the Bulls up by 15.
Purple Eagles head coach Joe Mihalich was impressed with the play of the Bulls point guard.
"He's really kind of embraced the role he's playing, and he's just filling the stat sheet up," Mihalich said. "He's the key to their team… he's the straw that stirs the drink."
The Bulls captain finished with 19 points, five rebounds, and four assists while shooting 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.
While Mulkey has been the clear leader of the team so far this season, his supporting cast has played well all year. Against Niagara, the Bulls had four players score in double-figures, including a career-high 16-point performance on 6-of-7 shooting by senior forward Jawaan Alston.
The depth of the frontcourt has really been something that Bulls head coach Reggie Witherspoon has taken advantage of this season.
"It's great to be able to have a guy that has that experience, that you pull in off the bench," Witherspoon said. "[Alston] can go out and defend guys on the perimeter and still have the energy necessary to rebound the ball and score around the basket."
Joining Mulkey and Alston in double-figures was junior guard Zach Filzen. After spending most of last season playing a minimal role for the Bulls, the sharp-shooting junior leads the Mid-American Conference in 3-point shooting this year.
"It's been something I've been waiting for, for a while," Filzen said. "I was excited for this year [because] I knew I'd have a chance. It's a lot of work and a lot of preparation. I just try to go out and play and try to help the team win."
Filzen added four more 3-pointers on Wednesday, giving him 26 on the year while shooting at a 40 percent clip. He scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds in 37 minutes of play.
Junior forward Mitchell Watt was the fourth Bull in double-digits and barely missed a double-double all night. Watt scored 11 points to go with nine rebounds and four blocked shots in only 17 minutes of action.
The Bulls also excelled on the defensive end, limiting their opponent's possessions by outrebounding the Purple Eagles 41-31. They also shut down Niagara's two active leading scorers, junior forward Kashief Edwards and senior guard Anthony Nelson.
Edwards and Nelson came into Wednesday night's affair both averaging over 14 points per game. The Bulls defense gave them fits, as they shot a combined 10-of-33 from the floor.
With the score tied at 10 entering the first media timeout, the Bulls came out of the quick break with an 8-0 run, giving them a lead they would not relinquish.
A balanced offensive attack, including shooting 58 percent from the field, gave the Bulls a 41-30 halftime lead. Seven different players hit more than two field goals in the half.
Freshman forward Javon McCrea contributed six points, eight rebounds, four assists, and four blocks in 23 minutes off the bench.
Next up for the Bulls is a matchup with the Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix (4-5, 1-1 Horizon League) on Saturday at Alumni Arena. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.