UB Bulls defeat Vermont, claim Springfield Bracket Championship
Behind Bearden’s 20, Buffalo gets 77-71 victory
Four months out from the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Buffalo men’s basketball team added another tournament championship to its résumé.
The Bulls (3-2) defeated Vermont (2-3) 77-71 in Uncasville, Connecticut Sunday to help claim the Springfield Bracket Championship of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic. After blowout losses to Old Dominion and St. Joseph’s, the Bulls rebounded to win their last two games of the tournament.
Head coach Nate Oats said the team improved throughout the tournament.
“I thought we didn’t play well versus Old Dominion, but we played better against St. Joseph’s. As we got to this game, the ball moved a lot better, the defensive energy was a lot better,” Oats said. “Hopefully it all comes together and we’re there once conference play starts.”
Buffalo trailed 30-29 heading into halftime, but outscored the Catamounts 48-41 in the second half. With the scored tied at 57 with six minutes remaining, the Bulls went on a 13-4 run over the next five minutes to pull away.
One player that stepped up for Buffalo was sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden. A preseason All-MAC selection, Bearden shot just 11 of 38 from the field in Buffalo’s first four games. But against Vermont Sunday, Bearden had his best all-around performance and finished with a season-high 20 points and played solid defense at the guard position.
Bearden has now put together three straight performances with at least 13 points. After a slow start, Oats said Bearden is beginning to adjust to his new role on the roster.
“Lamonte is figuring out his role,” Oats said. “Coming into the year, he knew he has to score a bit more this year, and I think he took that role on by just taking shots. Today he was aggressive in finding his shot and moving the ball. We’re going to need that.”
But it wasn’t just Bearden’s play that led Buffalo to its third victory of the season.
Junior wings Willie Conner and Blake Hamilton each scored 14 points, with Hamilton adding in a team-high seven rebounds.
Buffalo continues non-conference play with two Big 4 opponents before facing No. 5 Duke (4-1) and Iowa State (3-0) – two Power 5 opponents – in three days.
The Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic gave the Bulls a chance to face various opponents on the Division-I level. With what needs to be worked on and adjusted, Oats was happy to see his team fight in a close game, while acknowledging that the team needs to play for 40 minutes every night.
“This was our third game that we won, but it’s only our second win against a Division-I opponent,” Oats said. “Against [North Carolina] A&T, we got to open that game early, so it was good to see this team play a close game here. It was big for us and it showed everyone that we’re going to be good if we can put it together and play for 40 minutes every night.”
The Bulls return home to face Canisius (2-1) on Saturday at Alumni Arena. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.
Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.