ATHENS, OH - It was a tale of two halves Saturday afternoon in the Convocation Center as the Buffalo men's basketball team stormed back from an 18-point halftime deficit to shock the Ohio Bobcats and the 10,427 fans in attendance, 73-68. Not only did it feature the largest second-half comeback on the road in the team's history in the Mid American Conference, but it was just the second time ever that the Bulls downed Ohio on the road. Junior Zach Filzen matched a career high in points to lead a ferocious Buffalo comeback.
The team started slow in the first half, with turnovers and major foul trouble breaking up the offensive rhythm. Unable to sustain any major runs, the Bulls allowed Ohio to build an 18-point lead at the end of the first half. The Buffalo offense was its own worst enemy, committing 13 turnovers to only five assists, and Ohio took advantage of the miscues, going into half with a 16-0 advantage in points off turnovers.
A normally efficient Buffalo offense failed to convert many opportunities from the field, hitting only seven of 23 shots. The lone bright spot in the first half was the free throw shooting, with Buffalo hitting 10 free throws to buoy the offense through rough shooting stretches in the opening frame. Ohio's Nick Kellogg was the difference-maker in the first half, hitting all four of his three-point attempts for 12 points.
As the second half got underway, it became apparent very early on that Buffalo was not going away quietly, scoring eight straight points in the first two and a half minutes of the second half to force a quick timeout from the Ohio bench. It was a methodical comeback that was aided by terrific ball control and lights out shooting from up close and long distance.
"I didn't know whether we'd come back or not but at least the energy we brought right away to start the second half was good to see," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "I thought our guys really hung in there and came out in the second half determined and showed tremendous character in front of this large crowd and playing such a quality team."
After being held scoreless and playing only 12 minutes in the first half, Byron Mulkey was a real catalyst in the final frame, scoring 12 points and adding four assists and two steals. The Bulls' first half star, Javon McCrea, followed up nine first half points with another 12 in the second half, many coming in crunch time. The freshman phenom also had eight rebounds and two blocks to go along with his total output of 21 points. The real difference maker, though, was Filzen, who scored 20 points in the second half with an array of three pointers and driving jumpers inside. The sharp-shooting guard was deadly from long distance in the final half, going 5-7 from three and 7-9 overall.
Filzen's 20 points marked the first time Buffalo had back to back players with 20 points in a half since Andy Robinson in 2008, following Mulkey's first half effort against Kent State Wednesday.
When push came to shove, Buffalo turned to a trio of star performers in the second half to trim the Ohio lead. Filzen, Mulkey and McCrea combined for 44 of the team's 48 second-half points. It was an effective triple-threat as Buffalo regained its offensive efficiency in a big way, shooting 72 percent to frustrate the Bobcat defense. The Ohio offense was just as frustrated, however, coughing up eight turnovers to Buffalo's four.
A Filzen three at the 9:45 mark gave the game its first tie since the opening tip. It wouldn't take long before Buffalo took its first lead, at the 7:45 mark after a layup from Mulkey. Ohio tied it up on its next possession but a back-breaking three pointer from Filzen put Buffalo up for good on the next trip down.
With less than a minute to play, Ohio pulled within three and Mulkey missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw. With the Bobcats driving back down to attempt to take the lead, Mulkey raced back and poked the ball away from guard D.J. Cooper, snagged it and then was fouled. He would atone for his prior miss, sinking both bonus free throws to ice the game.
"The biggest lesson we learned here today was to stay together in good times or bad times and keep fighting," Witherspoon added.
The jubilant Buffalo squad not only won its first conference road game, but also a critical win to keep pace in a hellacious Eastern Division race. The win moves Buffalo to 11-6 overall and 3-2 in conference action, while Ohio drops to 1-4. With divisional matchups over for the time being, the team will now head to Kalamazoo for a meeting with Western Michigan Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 pm.