UB Bulls win third in a row, take down Northern Illinois 90-78

Bearden erupts for 23 points in fifth win in last six games


Lamonte Bearden made sure not to disappoint in front of his family and friends.

DeKalb, Illinois is the closest road matchup in proximity to his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which presented an opportunity for his loved ones to watch him run the floor for the men's basketball team Tuesday night.

Bearden did more than run it – he took over.

The Bulls (13-9, 6-3 Mid-American Conference) shut down one of the top teams in the MAC with a 90-78 victory over Northern Illinois (16-6, 5-4 MAC) on Tuesday night at the Convocation Center. Buffalo handed the Huskies their first loss at home this season and held them to 38.6 percent shooting from the field.

The Bulls are now in second place in the MAC East following Kent State’s loss to Central Michigan.

“Our guys have figured out you have to come out of the gate ready to play and we’ve been doing that for these past two road games,” said head coach Nate Oats. “We just continued to play. We let them back in it - let them get to the free throw line too much toward the end of the first half. A few turnovers hurt us. But we came out in the second half, blew it open again and played pretty well.”

Buffalo did most of its offensive work from the free throw line and beyond the arc. Between both teams, there were 61 personal fouls called and four players, three Bulls, which fouled out of the game.

Both the Bulls and the Huskies capitalized on their free throws, hitting 32 and 30, respectively. But it was the Buffalo defense that ultimately prevailed.

The Huskies were able to propel to the top of the MAC West by stellar defensive play. Their 38.4 defensive field goal percentage and 64.4 points per game allowed ranks first in the conference.

But Northern Illinois overlooked the surging Bulls and their stingy defense that has developed to be one of the best in the league.

And it was Bearden who was at the front of the attack.

The sophomore was instrumental in shutting down one of the most potent offenses in the league. He compiled three steals and came up huge multiple times in the transition game. Bearden finished with a team-high 23 points and 6 of 14 from the floor and 9 of 10 from the free throw line.

Oats was expecting even better.

“He could have easily had 10 assists,” Oats said with a chuckle. “I thought he played outstanding. He played good on ‘D.’ He was active. He got deflections. We got stops and he got out on the break. I’m really happy for him that he played this well in front of his people back home.”

Four of the Huskies starters were held to four or less points. Those four players hit a combined two field goals.

The Bulls’ defensive attack lasted throughout most of the game, but they were never in a serious rut to the point of its lead being lost.

Buffalo began the game on a 14-0 run and never looked back. The Bulls sunk their first four shots from the field while already building a 9-0 lead at the time.

The Bulls have now won three games in a row with consecutive victories picked up on the road. 

Buffalo will now play six of its final nine games in the friendly confines of Alumni Arena, where it is 7-2 this season. Oats is aware of the challenging schedule Buffalo will face, including a rematch against Eastern Michigan. But Buffalo feels comfortable at home.

It’s starting to feel the same way about road games.

“We’re one game out of first place,” Oats said. “We have to go to Akron, so it’s going to be hard to win. But we’ve proven that we can win on the road. We’re right there.”

The Bulls will begin a three-game home stand on Saturday when they face the Eagles (11-11, 3-6 MAC). Tipoff will be at 3:30 p.m.

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