Bulls Fall To Kent State In MAC Tournament Quarterfinals
CLEVELAND, OH – Playing in its third game in four days, the Buffalo men's basketball team was unable to hold off rival Kent State Thursday night in the quarterfinal round of the Mid-American Conference tournament, losing to the Golden Flashes 70-68. Tony Watson finished his outstanding senior season with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists to lead UB.
It was a slow start for the Bulls, who were looking to shake out their legs after a sizzling second half finish Wednesday night to earn a win over Ball State. In the first ten minutes of the game, the team as a whole went 0-10 from deep, and 3-15 overall from the floor. Kent State built a 17-11 lead at the 10:16 mark in the half, punctuated by Javon McCrea being whistled for his second foul with 7:33 left to play. Instead of wilting without its All-MAC forward on the floor, the Bulls finally found success from deep to take the lead.
Watson would hit a pair of threes, and Regan would add one of his own as the Bulls outscored Kent State 14-6 in the five minutes between the final two media timeouts, taking a 31-25 lead at the 2:32 mark thanks to a ten-point outburst from Watson in that span. The Flashes would again respond though and head into halftime down just 32-30. Despite playing just nine minutes, McCrea would pitch in 11 points in the half, while Watson scored 13.
The second half would start on a high note for UB, as Will Regan scored six points in the first minute to give the Bulls its largest lead of the game. After taking the opening possession and hitting a three, Regan would be fouled on a three point attempt the next time down the court and sank all three shots. Kent State would work the UB lead back down from that point, going on a 17-9 spurt from the 19:09 mark to the 12:13 mark to tie the game at 47. Neither team would lead by more than five points from that point on.
Kent State senior Chris Evans sparked a brief 6-0 run with a three-point play to put KSU up 53-49 with 9:21 to go, but Jarryn Skeete would strike from deep and two more points from McCrea would put the Bulls back up with a 54-53 lead. After trading leads, the game was tied at 60 at the final media timeout with 3:31 to play. Regan made one of two free throws, and Kent State then answered with a pair of free throw on its next possession. Evans put the team on his back over the final 2:20 of the game, scoring six of the team's final eight points of the game. His layup at the 1:21 mark gave KSU a 66-61 lead, but Auraum Nuiriankh hit his lone three of the game to make it a one-possession game again.
With 54 seconds left, the Bulls defense held tough, but were whistled for a foul with just two seconds left on the shot clock and 21 seconds left in the game. After two more free throws to make it a 68-64 game, Watson took the ball the length of the floor for a quick layup that left just seven seconds on the clock. Two more free throws from the Flashes would seal it, as Watson's coast-to-coast lay in to follow it up would come as the clock expired.
There were nine different lead changes in the game (six in the second half), and the two teams were tied on nine other occasions (seven in the second half). The Bulls committed just eight turnovers in the game, a season low for the team. The Buffalo bench would contribute just one of the team's 68 points in the game.
McCrea finished his season with 611 points, the most ever by a UB player in a single season, and Tony Watson recorded his second career double-double in his final game wearing the blue and white. Watson hit four threes in the game, giving him 77 for his senior season.
"I thought it was a hard fought, tight contest," head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "I think on our end we didn't rebound the ball like we normally do. We took care of the ball, but there were a few possessions we'd like to have back. I'm proud of the effort our guys have put out all season. Very few people when the conference season started thought we would be in this position but I'm proud of our guys."
The Bulls finish the season with a 14-20 overall record.