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Monday, June 17, 2024
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Bulls' Season Over Despite Second-Half Comeback

McCrea scores 28 in loss to Kent State

CLEVELAND—There's been two different versions of the men's basketball team this

season – the one that wins in Alumni Arena, and the one that loses away from it.

In the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals on Thursday night, the eighth-

seeded Bulls (18-13, 8-8 MAC) held true to form, falling 73-62 to top-seeded Kent State

(22-10, 12-4 MAC) at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Bulls' loss in the rubber match with the Golden Flashes, who win the season

series 2-1, eliminates them from the postseason. Since the start of conference play in

January, the Bulls were 8-2 at home and 2-6 on the road, not including Thursday's game.

Kent State ran the Bulls out of the gym at the beginning of the game. In the first

half, Buffalo had trouble getting back on transition defense, evidenced by the Golden

Flashes' 8-0 advantage in fast-break points. To make matters worse, Buffalo turned the

ball over nine times before halftime, compared to only two giveaways for Kent State.

A bright spot for the Bulls was the play of freshman forward Javon McCrea, who

finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds. In the first half, the MAC Freshman of the Year

was a one-man squad, scoring 17 points (including a trio of huge dunks) in 16 minutes

after junior forward Mitchell Watt picked up two immediate fouls to begin the game.

"Tonight we had to put a lot of weight on one guy," said Bulls head coach Reggie

Witherspoon. "[McCrea] played terrific."

McCrea was the only Bulls player with more than two points at halftime, which

was reflected in Kent State's commanding 41-25 lead. It wouldn't last long, however.

The Bulls came surging out of the locker room in the second half, ripping off

separate runs of 11-5 and 15-4. With 7:51 remaining, Kent State only led 56-52 after a

layup from freshman guard Jarod Oldham, who provided important minutes off the bench

during that stretch.

"Jarod Oldham played great," Witherspoon said. "For a freshman, he went out

there and stuck his nose in and I was proud of how hard he played…He shows great

promise."

With around six minutes remaining, McCrea missed a layup that couldn't have

been any closer to falling through the net. The shot would have cut the Kent State lead to

only three points. Instead, the Golden Flashes rebounded the ball and scored, increasing

their lead to seven points. They never looked back.

MAC Player of the Year Justin Greene and All-MAC selection Rodriguez

Sherman led the way for Kent State. Greene recorded 16 points and 10 rebounds, while

Sherman was the Golden Flashes' leading scorer with 18 points.

The Bulls' leading scorer this season, junior guard Zach Filzen, was largely

ineffective, finishing with only ---seven points (all of which came in the second half) on

3-of-9 shooting.

The loss ends a 2010-11 campaign that peaked in January and trailed off ever

since. Teams that win in March often enter the postseason with momentum, and the Bulls

didn't have much of it, if any. They were 4-7 from February 5 on, after coming off of a

six-game winning streak.

"We played more home games in the first part of our conference season,"

Witherspoon said. "That was the biggest difference in the results. Some of those games

that we lost we played well in. One of the issues we had was that teams were playing

small and we had to play some zone. We rolled the dice with that."

Also finished is the career of senior guard Byron Mulkey, who has been the

unquestioned leader of the Bulls this season. In his last game, he had eight points, three

rebounds, two assists, and a steal. He played all but the game's final seconds.

"[Next year, without Mulkey], we'll have different decision making,"

Witherspoon said. "We'll certainly miss, more than anything, the trust that the players

have for Byron and his work ethic and his leadership. That's something we'll start to

work on right away."

Though they will surely miss Mulkey, Buffalo fans can be comforted by the

thought of returning McCrea, Filzen, Watt, Oldham, junior forward Titus Robinson, and

a host of other young players next year.

Despite Thursday's loss, the Bulls exceeded their early-season expectations,

according to Witherspoon. The second-half comeback was representative of the Bulls'

entire season, in a way.

"Our guys fought back and they fought all year," Witherspoon said. "It's a group

that no one thought would be in a situation where we would amass the win total of last

year's team."

E-mail: sports@ubspectrum.com


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