UB Bulls defeat Eastern Michigan 80-70 after slow start

Winners of six of their last seven, Bulls trending upward toward postseason


No team wants to find itself down 15 point less than 10 minutes into the game. 

That's where the Buffalo men’s basketball team, winners of five of its last six, found itself Saturday afternoon against Eastern Michigan. 

But the Bulls (14-9, 7-3 Mid-American Conference) pulled off an impressive comeback to beat Eastern Michigan (11-12, 3-7 MAC) 80-70 in Alumni Arena in front of an announced crowd of 3,417. They didn’t take their first lead of the game until there was 3:57 remaining in the game, but still got their fourth straight win and moved into second in the MAC East.

“We came out with an awful start,” said head coach Nate Oats. “I still haven’t figured this team out, because we went on the road where it’s supposed to be harder to play, and we came out twice and were ready to play offensively and defensively. We jumped out to big leads, and then, we flipped the script today. We let them do it to us.”

The Bulls had a poor shooting game, hitting just 36 percent from the field and just 21 percent from beyond the arc. Their ability to get to the free throw line - 9 of 11 in the first half, 28 of 38 for the game - allowed the Bulls to overcome one of the team’s worst shooting performances of the season.

Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy was visibly disappointed after the game with his team’s performance. During the postgame press conference, Murphy talked about how he felt his team’s zone defense and personnel matched up very well with the Bulls, and his comments were something Oats adamantly agreed with.

“We’re not the best shooting team in the league,” Oats said. “That zone causes us problems more than it does other teams. They’ve got athletes that have been able to beat ours off the dribble. Our pressure doesn’t bother them as much as it does some other teams. They’re also big, and we like to drive in the middle, but (James) Thompson (freshman center for Eastern Michigan), he’s not easy to finish over.”

Oats admitted that Eastern Michigan would be a tough matchup for the Bulls if they were to meet in this year’s MAC Tournament.

The Bulls closed out the Eagles with a 15-4 run in the final four minutes, showing their ability to both lock teams down defensively, while attacking a defense. In the same four minute stretch, the Bulls garnered 10 free throw attempts. Senior forward/guard Rodell Wigginton led the way with four free throws and even made a layup in the stretch where the Bulls closed out the game.

Wigginton finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Freshman guard CJ Massinburg finished with 12 points, two rebounds and two steals. Sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out four assists, blocked one shot and got two steals. Junior forward Blake Hamilton, who called Eastern Michigan “the best 3-7 team in conference play in the country,” finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

After defeating the Eagles, Oats’ comments made it clear that Eastern Michigan was one team the Bulls have on their radar to watch out for. Disrupting their offense, creating bad shots, the Bulls understand that Eastern Michigan and its defense can do just that, and another matchup with the Eagles in the MAC Tournament could end their season. Oats remembers how the Eagles' defense knocked Buffalo out of the 2014 MAC Tournament.

“It happened two years ago,” said Oats. “We got matched up with them and we were out of the tournament in the quarterfinals, so we have to figure this out.”

The Bulls remain home to host Toledo (13-9, 4-5 MAC) on Tuesday. The Bulls defeated the Rockets 73-68 on Jan. 30 and look to sweep the season series. 

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and will be available on ESPN3.

Michael Akelson is a sports staff writer and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com