UB’s Cinderella run is over.
The Bulls’ (16-8, 12-6) NCAA Tournament hopes were dashed in an 84-69 season-ending loss to Ohio (16-7, 10-5) in the MAC Championship Game at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland Saturday.
The second-seed Bulls were hampered by shooting woes and defensive lapses, especially when trying to contain Bobcats star Jason Preston.
Preston, a junior guard from Orlando, led the Bobcats with 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Preston was able to propel the fifth-seed Bobcats to the NCAA Tournament with his impressive court vision and shifty playmaking.
Senior forward Dwight Wilson III (17 points, seven rebounds and one assist) and sophomore forward Ben Roderick (20 points and two rebounds) keyed the Bobcats’ win.
The Bobcats led by as many as 20 points at 17:49 in the second half. The ‘Cats were helped by adequate free-throw shooting — 78.3% from the charity stripe — and nine steals.
The Bulls clawed their way back into the game in the second half, cutting the lead to just 10 at the midway point. But a contested corner three from Bobcats redshirt sophomore forward Ben Vander Plas (nine points on 3-of-9 shooting) with 9:56 remaining put the game out of reach.
Junior guard Ronaldo Segu led the Bulls with 24 points, two rebounds and two assists. Segu was perfect from the free-throw line, but shot just 36.4% from the field and 16.7% from three.
Senior guard Jayvon Graves had 13 points on just 4-of-14 shooting. He also tallied five turnovers and four fouls. The Bulls’ shooting woes plagued them all night, with mediocre performances from Segu, Graves and junior forward Jeenathan Williams.
Junior forward Josh Mballa was the team’s most consistent threat, posting 16 points and 11 rebounds, but he was noticeably fatigued near the end of the game.
The Bulls’ bench didn’t score a single point the whole contest.
UB averaged 82.3 points per game during the regular season, which ranked first in the MAC and ninth nationally. But head coach Jim Whitesell’s squad struggled to shoot at all levels: the Bulls shot just 34.4% from the field, 26.3% from three-point range and 74.1% from the free-throw line.
The Bulls previously defeated the Bobcats, 86-66, at the Ohio University Convocation Center on Feb. 27. Mballa posted 23 points and nine rebounds and senior guard/forward David Nickelberry had a career-high 16 points in the win.
By failing to win the MAC title, the Bulls will not be heading to the NCAA Tournament in Indiana. Instead, the reigning MAC champions — UB won the 2019 MAC title, the last time the conference tournament was played due to COVID-19 — will be sidelined through November.
The NCAA Tournament field will be announced on CBS at 6 p.m. Sunday.
After starting off the season with a 6-6 record, UB won eight of its last nine regular season games and snuck into the MAC Tournament as the second seed. The Bulls defeated No. 7 Miami (OH), 74-63, in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Akron, 81-74, in the semifinals.
But the Bulls’ impressive late-season run wasn’t enough to hold off the insurgent Bobcats, who will advance to their first NCAA Tournament since 2012.
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.