CLEVELAND, OH - Will Regan poured in 25 of his career-best 36 points in the second half to lift the University at Buffalo men's basketball team to a 76-61 win over Ball State in the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Wednesday night . Regan's career day helped the Bulls turn a 36-30 halftime deficit into a blowout win.
Regan's 36 points were the eighth most by any MAC player in the tournament's history and the most ever by a UB player.
"I had plenty of open shots and my teammates found me in open spots," Regan said. "I think when I hit those first couple threes it really kind of put them in a dilemma and we just started moving the ball really well and we were able to find everyone open after that."
The game was dominated by standout players on either side, each who almost single-handedly willed their respective teams to victory. In the first half, Ball State senior guard Jauwan Scaife poured in 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep to help the Cardinals to a lead at the break. He would finish with 28 in his final collegiate game. The Bulls were frustrated with missed opportunities, shooting just 8-28 (28.6 percent) in the first half, and allowing Ball State to control the glass for a 24-15 advantage (including 12 offensive rebounds).
The one key to helping the Bulls stay close was solid free throw shooting. Physical inside play from Regan and Javon McCrea yielded 11 free throw attempts from just the two posts, 10 of which were converted. The team's 12-3 advantage in made free throws and a defense that forced nine Ball State turnovers made up for the discrepancies on the glass and from deep. McCrea scored 12 points and added seven rebounds in the first half, but had to take 11 shots to get there.
"I thought Ball State came out and attacked us really hard in the first half on the glass. We had to really talk about that at halftime and be more determined to do a better job in that area," head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "I thought we really needed to stick to our defensive principles better. They showed us some resistance in the early part of our offense that was going to require of us to be more diligent about moving the ball and moving without the ball. I think those areas really helped us in the second half."
As the second half began, the Bulls quickly erased the halftime difference and slowly but surely built up their lead. The Bulls went on a 7-0 run that was capped off by a layup and a foul from Javon McCrea. The Cardinals would tie it by hitting the back end of a pair of free throws, and from that point on, in a 39-39 game, the Bulls would go on a 35-15 run to take its biggest lead of the game with 2:03 to play. Ball State would take a 43-42 lead at the 14:54 mark, but Regan would hit a layup on the next UB possession and spark a 10-0 run that would give the Bulls a cushion it would never give back.
It was Regan's night for the final 20 minutes, as his 25 second-half points matched the entire output of the Ball State squad. He hit all four of his three-point attempts, and was 9-for-11 from the field and 3-of--3 at the line. He and McCrea were in perfect harmony, with McCrea stringing some dazzling passes to a cutting Regan for a handful of easy layups.
The post combination of Regan and McCrea would ultimately combine for 54 of the team's 76 points, but the team was also lifted by another solid game from Raphell Thomas-Edwards. After scoring 18 points for the entire MAC season, the Leicester, England native has scored 18 points in two tournament games. After scoring 10 points in the overtime win over Central Michigan, Thomas-Edwards hit a pair of threes, pulled down three rebounds, handed out two assists and stole away a pair of possessions from the Cardinals.
Despite the lack of scoring from the Buffalo guards, the offense was run efficiently by Tony Watson and Jarryn Skeete, who combined for 12 assists and just four turnovers for the entire game. Watson also picked off Ball State a career-high four times and scored five points. As a whole, the Bulls rebounded from a rough opening half to shoot 16-25 (64 percent) in the second half.
A spirited UB defense held Ball State to just a 6-24 performance in the second half, blocking only one shot but making 13 steals, a season high for the team. Buffalo also ended up with a 19-22 day at the free throw line, with its 86 percent margin standing as the highest percentage since Jan. 30.
With two games in the books, the team will now face East Division rival Kent State Thursday evening in the quarterfinals. The two teams last met almost two weeks ago to the day, with Kent State winning at home on a buzzer-beating layup in overtime. Tip time is set for 6:30 pm, and the game can be seen on SportsTime Ohio.