UB Bulls snap losing streak, win key matchup over Bowling Green

Bearden returns from suspension, scores 16 points


The Buffalo men’s basketball team was one subpar half away from descending even further down the Mid-American Conference standings and becoming losers of four straight games.

But Blake Hamilton wasn’t worried,

“We got it in our minds we couldn’t lose another game,” Hamilton, a junior wing, said. “When we play good defense, it leads to good offense. I don’t know if coach [Nate] Oats was worried, but we weren’t worried.”

The Bulls (15-12, 8-6 MAC) put up 50 second-half points en route to an 88-74 victory over Bowling Green (13-14, 4-10 MAC) in front of an announced crowd of 3,397 at Alumni Arena Saturday afternoon. Hamilton scored 16 of his career-high 24 points in the second half as the Bulls snapped their three-game losing streak.

“Once we knew we needed a win, he was pretty good,” Oats said of Hamilton. “He got to the rim, finished when he needed to.”

Buffalo spent the entire first half figuring out how to break Bowling Green’s shut-down 2-3 zone defense. The Bulls did put up 38 points and shot 46 percent from the field in the first half, but the Falcons were shooting just as hot and at a faster pace. Oats also thinks the Bulls’ nine turnovers “shot [them] in the foot” during the first half.

It was a 16-0 Buffalo run in the second half that changed the course of the game.

Buffalo finally figured out how to break the 2-3 zone by catching the Falcons out of place.

“The difference in the second half was that the zone wasn’t always set,” said sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden, who returned to the lineup Saturday after a three-game suspension. “We’re coming off of stops and the gaps are a little bit bigger when they’re not sitting back there.”

The Bulls used a combination of fast breaks, key offensive rebounds and aggressiveness at the rim to turn a six-point deficit into a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to play.

During most of the stretch, Bowling Green did not have the defense set and was unable to fully initiate its zone. Buffalo’s floor generals – and their key passing – took over from there.

And perhaps Buffalo’s most important floor general returned to the court as well.

Bearden’s return after a suspension for what the team called “conduct detrimental to the team” was key for Buffalo, even though he didn’t start. Bearden finished with 16 points, six assists and two steals in 29 minutes of play.

“It helped having Bearden back in a big way,” Oats said. “He was back controlling the ball, getting to the paint. He shot the ball well, got to the free throw line. It helps the rotation out. It keeps guys fresher. Guys’ minutes are back down to what they should be to keep those fresh bodies on those guards.”

Without Bearden, Oats played an eight-man rotation. With Bearden, the guards were able to get extra rest during games and maximize their level of play.

“I don’t know if we can make that comeback with eight guys in the rotation,” Oats said.

Junior forward David Kadiri replaced freshman forward Ikenna Smart in the starting lineup, but didn’t manage more than 13 minutes. He was held scoreless, plagued by fouls and fouled out with 5:45 left in the game.

Oats admitted Smart wasn’t supposed to be a starter this season, but with the season-ending foot injury to senior Raheem Johnson and the unexpected expulsion of former MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss, the forward position was, and still is, in a bind.

Buffalo is now in fifth place in the MAC, fourth in the East. The Bulls, along with Akron (21-6, 10-4 MAC), Kent State (18-9, 9-5 MAC) and Ohio (17-8, 8-5 MAC) are all in contention for the MAC East crown.

Next up for Buffalo is a pivotal conference matchup against Kent State on Tuesday. Buffalo defeated the Golden Flashes 76-67 in the two team’s first matchup this season.

“We have to take it one game at a time,” Hamilton said.

Tuesday’s tipoff is set for 6 p.m. at Alumni Arena.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.