Senior forward Josh Mballa’s eighth double-double of the season propelled the UB men’s basketball team (19-8, 13-4 MAC) to a 70-60 victory over Northern Illinois (8-20, 5-13 MAC) Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena.
Mballa netted 14 points and snagged 15 rebounds in the win, which extended UB’s win streak to nine with just two regular season games remaining until the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
“We had to lock in,” senior forward Jeenathan Williams said. “We had to take a look in the mirror and we did that and we just came together. Once we play together, it’s hard to beat us.”
Nine Bulls found the net in a balanced scoring attack as Buffalo mustered 18 bench points.
“We really had a great stretch there,” head coach Jim Whitesell said after the game. “Our bench came in and really gave us a great lift and it’s been really good to see that. I think they play good defense most of the time when they come in but it’s great to see them really get us going offensively.”
Williams, who led all scorers with 18 points, also added four assists and three boards.
“It’s a pick up,” Williams added. “When the starters are down they can come in and give us another punch. It let’s us regroup so when we come [back] in we give another punch as well.”Senior guard Ronaldo Segu tacked on 12 points, three assists and five rebounds. Senior guard Maceo Jack and freshman guard Curtis Jones each contributed seven points while senior guard Keishawn Brewton added six points and three boards. Sophomore center David Skogman only mustered two points but snagged six rebounds. Graduate forward Tra’von Fagan added three points and four rebounds while senior forward LaQuill Hardnett had one point along with four rebounds to round out Buffalo’s offensive attack.
The Huskies came out of the gate hot, going on a 5-0 run to open things up, but a layup from Segu ignited a spark in the Bulls, who responded with a 10-0 run to clutch a 10-5 lead with 12:46 to go.
“Nothing was going for us,” Williams said about the first few minutes. “But we just stuck with it, kept playing and digging until [we] finally broke through. Rondo [Ronaldo Segu] got a layup, a couple more layups for us and that’s all we needed to see — the ball [to] go in one time.”
The Bulls extended their lead to 13 points thanks to a 12-0 run with 8:05 left in the first. They held onto that advantage to clutch a 36-29 lead at the break.
A series of free throws and layups allowed NIU to cut the deficit to one with 11:04 in the second half, but Buffalo responded on both sides of the ball with an 8-3 run to hold a 53-49 lead with 8:56 left in the game. A 13-3 run highlighted by a Williams triple with 3:08 on the clock gave the Bulls a 10-point advantage (65-55), which they held onto, resulting in a 70-60 victory.
UB had 28 points in the paint and 12 fast-break points. The Bulls scored eight points from 18 offensive rebounds and turned 10 Husky turnovers into 16 points.
Buffalo will return to action on Tuesday against Toledo for its final home game of the season. The game will mark UB’s sixth match in 12 days.
“It’s a lot of games in 12 days,” Whitesell said. “We need a little bit of rest and recovery tomorrow and then we have to regroup and get ready for Toledo. I’m proud of the guys.”
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and the game can be streamed on ESPN+.
Kayla Sterner is an asst. sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kayla Sterner is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. She is studying communications with the hopes of being a sideline reporter. In her spare time, she can be found in the gym, watching football or vibing to Mac Miller. Kayla is on Twitter @kaylasterner.