UB Bulls fall 68-62 to West Virginia in second round of NCAA Tournament

Buffalo ties game late, but is unable to continue best season in program history


COLUMBUS, OHIO – With 2:41 remaining in its first-ever NCAA tournament game, the men’s basketball team had rallied back from several double-digit deficits to tie the game at 62.

But it ultimately wasn’t enough for Buffalo to continue its best season in program history.

The No. 12 seeded Bulls (23-10, 12-6 Mid-American Conference) were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Friday, as they fell to No. 5 West Virginia (24-9, 11-7 Big 12) 68-62 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The loss ended a historic season for Buffalo in which it won its first-ever MAC Tournament championship and made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance since joining Division I in the early 1990's. 

“It's a hard loss, because we didn't come in here satisfied being the champion of our league,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “We felt we had a team that could win games in the tournament. It didn't play out that way. We were a couple of possessions here or there from that happening.”

A 3-point basket by senior forward Xavier Ford with 2:41 remaining capped off a late 12-3 Buffalo run to tie the game at 62. But the Mountaineers retook the lead, 64-62, off of two free throws from forward Devin Williams about 30 seconds later. Junior forward and MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss missed an uncontested layup with 1:40 to play that would have tied the matchup at 64. West Virginia’s Tarik Phillip then hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining in the game that essentially solidified the Mountaineers’ victory.

West Virginia entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in steals per game with 10.9 due to its full-court press defense. The Bulls entered the game ranked No. 35 in the nation in avoiding turnovers.

But Buffalo committed 17 turnovers Friday, 12 of which came in the first half. The Bulls’ offense started sluggish, as the team didn’t make its first field goal until nearly four minutes into the game and started just 1-of-9 shooting from the field.

The Bulls’ offense finally got going with a 15-5 first half run that pulled the gap to within three at 29-26.

But the Mountaineers closed the first half on a 7-0 run for a 10-point halftime advantage. Buffalo did not make a basket in the final 4:25 of the half.

At halftime, Evans said Hurley “ripped them.”

“[Hurley] came in the locker room, ripped us,” Evans said. “I feel most coaches would have patted us on the back and be, ‘All right, you all hanging in there, you guys are doing well.’ He came into the locker room, ripped into us, got into us and we just responded.”

In the second half, the Bulls committed only five turnovers and shot 11 of 21 from the field, which included a 7-0 run to start the half. Buffalo trailed by nine with 6:21 remaining before going on its run to tie the game at 62 – a run that included nine points from Ford. He finished with a team-high 16 points and two rebounds.

“This has been a great run for me,” Ford said. “I'm just happy for the City of Buffalo that we're known for something associated with winning.”

Buffalo shot 6 of 16 from beyond the arc, three of which came from Ford. Junior guard Jarryn Skeete, the team leader in 3-pointers, went 0 of 4 from beyond the arc and scoreless in the game. With four minutes to play, Skeete missed a corner three that would have pulled the game within one point.

One of Buffalo's downfalls on Friday was its inability to connect on free throws.

The Bulls ranked third in the MAC with 72 percent shooting from the free-throw line coming into the game, but finished just 16-of-25 shooting from the line on Friday, including 6 of 14 in the first half.

Freshman guard Lamonte Bearden finished with eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, but also committed a game-high seven turnovers. Hurley said Bearden had a few passes that he “wishes he could have back.”

Moss finished with 13 points and seven rebounds while battling a lingering ankle injury from the eve of the MAC quarterfinals last week. Although he shot 7 of 11 from the free-throw line, he did not seem to have the explosiveness that he has had all season.

“Justin Moss hasn’t been himself and is still not himself, but he just was a warrior and gave everything he had,” Hurley said.

Hurley praised several of his players after the game for the season they have had.

Ford, who played his final game as a Bull, said he was proud of what Buffalo accomplished in a season in which it was picked to finish fourth in the MAC East by the preseason polls.

“If you had have told us three weeks ago or even at the beginning of the season that the president would pick us to win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a lot of people would have laughed in your face,” Ford said. “I'm proud of these guys and I love Coach Hurley to death.”

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan. grossman@ubspectrum.com