Miami Clips Bulls Late, 52-51
OXFORD, OH - In a game that featured 14 lead changes and 11 ties, the Buffalo Bulls (8-6, 1-2 MAC) found themselves behind when the clock hit 0:00 Saturday evening at Millett Hall, falling 52-51 to the Miami (OH) Redhawks (5-10, 1-2 MAC). Mitchell Watt had another double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Javon McCrea and Titus Robinson also scored in double figures for Buffalo.
After a sluggish performance at Ohio on Wednesday, the Bulls looked to exorcise those demons and did so early in the game, earning easy baskets through crisp offensive possessions. Javon McCrea led the way with six points in before the 16 minute mark of the first half. He finished the half with 10 points and had a team-high 16 for the game, adding in four rebounds, four steals and three assists. Neither team led by more than two points until a jumper by Watt with 34 seconds remaining in the half gave Buffalo a 26-23 lead going into the locker rooms.
The second half sang a different tune for UB, though, as turnovers again haunted the team and stunted the offense. In the second half alone, the Bulls had one assist but gave the ball away 13 times, which helped Miami to 20 points off turnovers and 10 fast break points. For the game, UB had 21 turnovers to just eight assists, the second straight game with over 20 giveaways.
"We hustled more, rebounded better and played better defense – we did a lot of thing better but just that one area (turnovers) can undo a lot of those good things," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon.
Another area that factored into the loss was the perimeter production for Buffalo, who hit one of 10 threes for the game to follow up a 2-12 effort at Ohio. Zach Filzen was held in check by the Redhawk defense and went 1-4 from the field and 0-3 from deep. Jarod Oldham hit the team's only triple.
"I think if they're going to take away our good looks on the perimeter, and you can score as many points as we did in the paint as we did today (34) then you're putting the defense in a bad position and the threes will take care of themselves," Witherspoon said.
Mitchell Watt took the baton from McCrea in the second half in terms of production and hit the boards hard, racking up nine points and six rebounds in just the final 20 minutes. His double-double was the fourth of the season and the second in as many games. Another bright spot for the Bulls, and its third player with double figures, was Titus Robinson. Now excelling in his role as the sixth man, Robinson put in 10 points with five rebounds in his 19 minutes of work. His scrappy defense and hustle rebounding gave the team a boost.
"Titus did a tremendous job defensively and leadership-wise, and his spirit and energy is exactly what we're looking for," Witherspoon said. "He played a terrific game and hopefully he continues this through the season."
Despite the turnovers, Buffalo still was very much in the game thanks to a terrific defense. Star Redhawk forward Julian Mavunga, who averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game coming into the night, put up only eight points and four rebounds. The Redhawks shot only 38 percent from the field and 53 percent from the free throw line.
The Bulls held onto a slim lead as late as 3:49 left in the second half but its 47-44 lead would be erased by a Brian Sullivan three and Miami would not allow Buffalo to lead again the rest of the way. Sullivan, a freshman guard, hit five of nine three pointers and led all scorers with 17 points. The Redhawks took a 48-47 lead on a free throw from Mavunga, and Jon Harris hit his only shot of the day when it really mattered as he sunk a three with 1:14 remaining to give Miami a four point lead.
Watt hit a pair of free throws to cut it to two and Miami answered with one free throw with eight seconds remaining for a three-point lead. Coming out of a timeout down 52-49, the Bulls managed to get a three off from Filzen but it hit the back of the rim and took a high bounce, leaving only enough time for a tip-in from McCrea that would ultimately not matter.
The team will return home from its week-long trip and prepare for a stiff test Wednesday evening, as the Akron Zips come to Alumni Arena in an early make-or-break game in the Mid-American Conference's East Division. Game time is scheduled for 7 pm.