Buffalo routs Northern Illinois in return to Alumni Arena

Buffalo defense shines in victory

After last week’s 78-68 loss to Western Michigan, head coach Bobby Hurley admitted it was hard to look at the box score.

The team shot just 33 percent from the field and trailed in nearly every statistical category to the defending Mid-American Conference champions. Hurley needed his team to regain its form to be a threat in conference play.

On Wednesday, the Bulls (11-4, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) responded to Hurley’s message with a dominating 82-63 victory over Northern Illinois (7-7, 1-2 MAC) in the first conference game at Alumni Arena this season. It was Hurley’s 30th career victory in just 44 games.

Buffalo gave up just 63 points in the win after allowing at least 70 points in the previous three games.

“I was excited about the energy we had on defense in the first half,” Hurley said. “We had a great balance of players contributing and playing well. It’s exciting to see.”

Buffalo trailed 13-12 with 10:19 remaining in the first half before going on an 11-0 run in the next 2:41, capped by a 3-pointer by junior guard Jarryn Skeete. Skeete hit three 3-pointers in the run. He finished with 14 points, including shooting 4 of 7 from beyond the arc in his first start since coming back from injury.

“Jarryn provided a spark in the first half with his three-point shooting,” Hurley said. “It ignited us offensively. We weren’t playing great offense in the first seven minutes. But he helped further the process.”

Buffalo led 42-21 at halftime, but the Huskies brought the game within 14 with in the first eight minutes of the second half. The Bulls answered with a 9-0 run and went up by 22 points with 9:04 left in the game.

Sophomore guard Shannon Evans – one of the Bulls’ key contributors in the second-half run – finished with 13 points, four assists and four steals.

The Bulls can credit the win in part to stingy defense. The Buffalo ‘D’ held Northern Illinois to 38 percent shooting from the field, 22 percent from beyond the arc and forced 16 turnovers leading to 30 Buffalo points.

“I think we talk so much about defense in the last couple of days because we gave up 70-plus points in the past three games. I wasn’t in a panic,” Hurley said. “I knew it would develop as the game went on.”

Despite the strong defensive performance, Buffalo was outrebounded 19-9 on the offensive glass and 45-32 overall. The Huskies also outscored the Bulls, 42-40, in the second half.

Junior forward Justin Moss – the MAC leader in points (17.4) and rebounds (9.7) per game – had another strong scoring output with 18 points. But he also shot 57 percent (8 of 14) from the free-throw line – much lower than his season average of 74.8 percent – and recorded only three rebounds.

Five Buffalo players – including four starters – finished with at least 11 points. Freshman guard Lamonte Bearden had 13 points and a team-high six assists coming off the bench.

Senior guard Xavier Ford finished with a team-high eight rebounds. He has averaged six rebound per game in the past three games and Hurley has noticed his tenacity in the paint.

“X[avier] brings the energy,” Hurley said. “You have to account for him because he’s a live body around the paint and gets the offensive glass pretty well. I struggle taking him out of the game because he gives us what we need.”

The team’s +10 turnover differential and 44 points in the paint were both season-highs for the team.

Buffalo continues conference play on Saturday when it hosts Miami Ohio (6-10, 1-2 MAC). The Bulls defeated the RedHawks, 79-72, Jan. 7. Tipoff at Alumni Arena is set for 3 p.m.