Jayvon Graves’ first career triple-double propelled the Bulls (13-7, 11-5) to an 80-78 victory over the Akron Zips (14-7, 12-6) Tuesday afternoon.
Graves tallied 13 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in front of a fanless Alumni Arena, as he secured the third triple-double in program history. The senior guard played 32 minutes, much of it coming down the stretch, as he helped UB stave off a late Akron run.
The Bulls led by as many as 22 points in the second half, before the Zips began to claw their way back into the game. Senior Akron guard Loren Christian Jackson, the reigning MAC Player of the Year, caught fire to end the contest, hitting a pair of threes and finishing with a game-leading 27 points on 10-28 shooting.
But his efforts were not enough to defeat the resurgent Bulls, who have now won seven of their last eight games. UB had four players — Graves, junior guard Ronaldo Segu and junior forwards Josh Mballa and Jeenathan Williams — finish in double-digits.
“Tough win,” UB men’s basketball head coach Jim Whitesell said. “With Loren Jackson out there, the game is never done. Akron’s such a good three-point shooting team and I have such respect for them. Our guys got a little careless with the basketball and a couple of things didn’t go our way. We missed a couple of free throws.”
Mballa, who ranks No. 20 in the nation in rebounding and leads the Bulls’ top-ranked rebounding attack, finished one board shy of a double-double. Williams shot just 5-17, but hit two crucial free throws down the stretch. The Bulls, as a team, shot 19-25 from the charity stripe.
Both teams struggled in the first half, with the Zips leading the Bulls 13-12 with 8:37 left in the frame. That would turn out to be Akron’s last lead of the game, as the Graves-led Bulls jumped out to a 36-21 advantage with 3:11 remaining in the half and carried that with them for the remainder of the contest.
The Bulls took a 39-25 lead into halftime, and held a 58-36 advantage with just eight minutes left in the game. But the Zips did not waver, finishing the game on a 42-22 run. Akron had four players finish in double digits. As a team, the Zips shot 13-14 from the free-throw line.
“We did a good job defending,” Williams said. “We played really good defense. We had multiple great defensive performances all over the floor. That was good.”
But the story was the same as it has been in nearly all of the Bulls’ wins this season: UB’s superior rebounding. The Bulls outrebounded the Zips 50-41, as Graves, Mballa, Williams and forwards David Nickleberry and LaQuill Hardnett led the way on the glass.
“I’ll take it,” Whitesell said about the win. “We’ve won seven of our last eight and that’s the most important thing. We’re playing good basketball.”
Williams said the Bulls didn’t get back enough on defense in the second half, which allowed Akron to chip away at their sizable lead. But he stressed that the priority was to win, which UB did.
“It just feels good to win a close game,” Williams said. “You can’t take any game for granted, especially in the MAC. You just play hard and [hope] to come out with the ‘W.’ When you do, you take it and you celebrate it and then you go on to the next one.”
With the win, the Bulls leapfrogged Akron for sole possession of third place in the MAC. UB clinched a MAC Tournament bid last week, so Tuesday’s game served as more of a tune-up for the postseason than a must-win contest.
UB will take on the second-place Kent State Golden Flashes Friday in the regular season finale at Alumni Arena. That game will kick off at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.