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Friday, June 21, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Bulls Aren't Finished Yet

When the men's basketball team has needed junior Zach Filzen and senior Byron Mulkey most this season, the two guards have delivered.

They did it again on Tuesday night.

The Bulls (18-12, 9-8 Mid-American Conference) advanced past the first round of the MAC Tournament by defeating Central Michigan (10-21, 7-10 MAC), 64-50.

The Bulls improved to 13-3 at home and 5-0 all-time in MAC Tournament games at Alumni Arena.

"They were methodically physical and tough tonight," said Central Michigan head coach Ernie Zeigler. "They had great leadership from Byron Mulkey and Zach Filzen. We tried to slow Filzen, but he did a really good job of finding spots. They found the spots and put themselves in position to move on in this tournament."

Filzen continued his mind-boggling 3-point shooting, adding five more to his MAC leading total, and finishing with 21 points.

Mulkey didn't have his highest scoring game - finishing with nine points - but he carried the team with his leadership as he has all season. The point guard set the single season all-time Bulls record for steals with three in the win.

The captain's enthusiasm impressed Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon.

"Byron did a tremendous job of being assertive defensively," Witherspoon said. "He really brought the energy."

The two leaders have left opposing coaches with headaches throughout the season.

"Mulkey has the ability to get in the lane, and get [the Bulls] running, so we tried to take that away," Zeigler said. "But we knew in doing so, we'd be left with an open spot-up shooter."

When the Bulls were left open, Filzen and junior forward Dave Barnett capitalized on opportunities.

The Bulls' lock-down defense limited the Chippewas' leading scorer, freshman guard Trey Zeigler, to one point in the first half. The phenom averages 16.5 per game. Although he finished with 10 points, Zeigler was shut down by the Bulls, only shooting 4-for-15 from the field.

Barnett contributed 11 points and seven rebounds, and he was the fuel behind the Bulls' effort to slow Zeigler.

"[Guarding the other team's best player] is a lot of fun," Barnett said. "I enjoy it. I knew I had to stay on my feet and stay in front of [Trey]."

After a strong first-half effort by Buffalo, Central Michigan came storming back to close the gap at 36-34. Yet again, Filzen delivered, knocking down one of his five 3-pointers.

The jumper ignited an 8-2 run, and the Bulls never looked back.

The Bulls defeated Central Michigan 72-43 earlier this season. Witherspoon emphasized how important it was for the team to not overlook the Chippewas.

"I told our guys to be prepared for a fight," Witherspoon said. "It was a good test for us. Sometimes, in situations like this one, when you play a team once and have a large margin of victory, when you play them again it's hard to think that the game's going to be close. Guys tend to get hesitant, but I thought our guys stayed aggressive."

In the next game of the MAC Tournament, the Bulls will take on No. 1 seed Kent State (21-10, 12-4 MAC). The teams split wins in two games this season. The Bulls lost by three in the last meeting, but in January, Buffalo won by 25 at Alumni Arena.

Although the Bulls are the eighth seed, the tournament appears to be wide open.

"We did some good things against Kent, but we feel that we can do some better things against Kent," Witherspoon said. "We're looking forward to the matchup. There is a tremendous amount of parity in the MAC, even more so than the records indicate."

Coach Zeigler echoed Witherspoon's sentiments.

"You just need to be the best team that night," Zeigler said. "It doesn't matter what your record is. Going into tonight there were nine conference tournaments won, and only one number one seed had succeeded. We told our guys that last year the ninth seed won this tournament."

The Bulls haven't been handed anything this season, but that only adds to the excitement of advancing to the tournament quarterfinals.

"It's exciting for all of us to pack our bags and be on our way [to the tournament]," Witherspoon said. "We've earned our way there."

The Bulls aren't finished yet. They plan on giving Kent State a run for its money.

The battle will take place in Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday at 7 p.m.

"We're ready," Filzen said. "We feel that we're way better than our record shows. If we get clicking, we can make a run at [the championship]. I'm confident, and I really like our chances."

E-mail: sports@ubspectrum.com


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