Bulls escape Bowling Green with 68-56 victory

After second half scare, Bulls pull away late, defeat Falcons

hardwoodreport

With 7:15 remaining in the Buffalo men’s basketball team’s game against Bowling Green, the Falcons’ Jehvon Clarke hit a jumper to put the Falcons up 49-48. The Bulls, who were previously leading by as much as 16, were reeling.

It seemed Buffalo, like in its recent three-game losing streak, was going to again blow a second half lead to one of the top teams in the conference.

But a late second-half surge, where the Bulls hit their final 12 free-throws, gave Buffalo a victory over the then top team in the Mid-American Conference.

The Bulls (17-9, 8-6 MAC) defeated Bowling Green (17-8, 9-5 MAC) 68-56 on Saturday at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. The Bulls went on a 14-4 run in the game’s final 3:55 to close out the Falcons and edge out their eighth conference victory of the season.

“We played a great first half, especially on the defensive end,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “We were tested in the second half. It was a real gut check for our guys. We lost the lead, but found a way to win. This is a hard place to play, so pulling out a victory like that was a really good win for us.”

Defensively, the Bulls didn’t force many turnovers, but forced Bowling Green into bad shots. Buffalo held the Falcons to just 32 percent shooting from the floor and 12 percent shooting from beyond the arc for just 22 points in the half.

Offensively, sophomore guard Shannon Evans took over the game in the first half with 14 points, two assists and going four of five from beyond the arc. He finished with 19 points for the game.

Hurley cited Evans’ first half performance as a key reason for the Buffalo victory.

“Shannon was out of this world,” Hurley said. “Really out of his mind in the first half, carrying our offense and hitting some big threes. Both he and [junior forward Jarryn Skeete] hit a couple big threes for us, opening it up at the end of the half.”

Buffalo built on a 12-point lead at the beginning of the second half with six quick points in the first 2:20 of the half to take a 16-point lead. But the Falcons went on a 23-6 run in the next 10-plus minutes to take a one-point lead with 7:15 left in the game. The Bulls only hit two field goals during that stretch.

But with 7:15 left to play, the Bulls went on a 14-4 run to silence the Falcons. Evans and Skeete hit back-to-back three-pointers in the run. A big part of the second-half run was the team’s free-throw shooting. Buffalo shot 82 percent (19 of 23) from the free-throw line, including going 13 of 14 from the line in the second half.

“We did a good job on the glass, but the one thing we excel in is getting free throws,” Hurley said. “We’re the best in the conference at getting at the line and [junior forward Justin Moss] did a good job of doing that. They had foul issues, so we made it a priority getting the ball to Moss and [senior forward Xavier Ford].”

Between Saturday’s victory and the win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, coach Hurley said the team is back on track with four games remaining in conference play.

“The direction of our season was on the line this week,” Hurley said. “After losing some tight games the last couple of weeks, we needed to prove to ourselves that we could still make a run. As a head coach, this was our best response, pulling out two tough games on the road this week.”

Moss finished with 15 points on 2-of-11 shooting, and connected on 11 of 12 free throws, six of which came in the second half. He also added 12 rebounds in another double-double effort. Ford also finished with 15 points. Senior forward Will Regan accumulated four points, four rebounds and two steals in 16 minutes played.

The Bulls are now 3-1 in their last four conference road games, with the only blemish being a 75-72 defeat at the hands of Akron (17-9, 8-5 MAC) on Feb. 7, who they will host on Tuesday at Alumni Arena.

With a win and Bowling Green loss to Ohio (9-16, 4-10 MAC) on Tuesday, the Bulls would jump to second place in the MAC East standings, trailing only Kent State (19-8, 10-4 MAC).

Tuesday’s tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Quentin Haynes is the sports desk editor. You can reach him at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com