Bulls Hold Off Central Michigan to Advance to Cleveland
BUFFALO, NY – The University at Buffalo men's basketball team held off Central Michigan, 74-72, in overtime in the first round of the FirstEnergy Mid-American Conference Tournament on Monday night at Alumni Arena. The eighth-seeded Bulls will next face Ball State, the fifth seed, in the tournament's second round in Cleveland on Wednesday night.
"It's that time of year when everyone talks about survive and advance and we did that," head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "Gritty, gutty performance by both teams. It may not have been our best effort, but it was one of our most determined efforts."
Four Bulls scored in double-figures, led by Javon McCrea's team-high 21 points. The junior forward, fresh off being named to the All-MAC First Team, added eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals. He shot 8-for-10 from the field.
It was a close game throughout with neither team leading by more than eight points. Central Michigan jumped out to a 15-7 lead and led for much of the first half. Struggling to get into an offensive groove, the Bulls got an unlikely spark from Raphell-Thomas Edwards. The sophomore swingman scored all of his career-high 10 points in the first half. His second three-pointer of the half gave UB a 28-24 lead. The Bulls would hold that four-point advantage at halftime.
The lead would change hands several times in the second half before Buffalo mounted an 8-0 scoring run to turn a 56-55 deficit into a 63-56 lead with 3:42 left. Tony Watson scored five of UB's eight points during the run and his layup gave the Bulls its seven-point advantage.
Kyle Randall, the MAC's leading scorer, refused to let the Chippewas go away quietly. He hit a three-pointer to cut the UB lead to 65-62 and then hit a layup to reduce Buffalo's lead to 65-64 with just over a minute to play.
Watson answered with a tough turnaround baseline jumper with 30 seconds left to put the Bulls ahead by three. However, Randall struck again with three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 67 with 21 seconds left. Watson's last-second contested three-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark and the game went into overtime.
McCrea scored the first four points in overtime, including a rim-rattling dunk in traffic to give UB a 71-67 lead with 2:59 left. The Bulls would hold a 73-72 advantage with under 10 seconds left. Central's Blake Hibbitts missed a three-pointer from the corner and Watson snagged the rebound and was fouled with three seconds left. The senior guard made one of two free throws to give UB a 74-72 lead. Randall's well-guarded three-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.
Will Regan scored 15 points, including three-pointers, and tied a career-high with eight rebounds. Watson had 14 points and six assists. Auraum Nuiriankh finished with five points, eight rebounds, five assists and a career-high four blocked shots. Three of his four blocks came in overtime.
Buffalo outrebounded Central Michigan, 41-31, and had 13 offensive boards, resulting in 16 second-chance points. The Bulls also had nine blocks in the game.
Randall led Central Michigan with 31 points.
Wednesday's game against Ball State at Quicken Loans Arena will tip off at 6:30 pm.