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  • Budd Bailey

UB can't double its success

By Budd Bailey

Win one game, and you’ve won one game.

Win two games in a row, and you’re on a winning streak.

There will be no winning streaks for the University at Buffalo’s men’s basketball team, at least for a while longer.

The Bulls fell to Western Michigan, 82-77, before 2.260 in Alumni Arena on Saturday afternoon. That dropped UB’s record for the season to 2-12. After suffering through a 1-11 record through the non-conference part of the schedule, the Bulls had taken a good step forward in the Mid-American Conference opener on Tuesday with a win at Central Michigan. But they were unable to follow it up with that second straight victory.

“We just talk about playing our best basketball at the end of the year,” UB coach George Halcovage said. “Really, we were proud of our effort at Central, and I thought we were going to come out in here and build on it. I thought we did at the start of the game, and then some of those habits that were incorrect got us at different points in the game. That didn’t allow us to extend the lead, which would have made it hard for them to make a run and come back.”

This looked like an evenly matched game much of the time, with plenty of the trading of baskets in the early going. The Bulls finally put together a 9-2 spurt to turn an 18-18 tie into a 27-20 lead with 7:17 left in the first half. But Western Michigan immediately answered with a 12-0 run to claim a five-point lead in the final minute of the half. Guard Ryan Sabol, playing with a protective mask over his broken nose, hit a 40-footer at the end of the half to cut the margin to two, 34-32.

“We came out defensively and played well, but we didn’t sustain it through the first half,” Halcovage said.

The Bulls used that bit of momentum to lead for most of the first six minutes of the second half. But a 9-0 run put WMU ahead by eight. From there the Broncos were more than happy to trade baskets and more or less did so until the last 90 seconds.

“It’s always frustrating when you’re trying to win as a team,” UB forward Sy Chatman said. “In the game, I come down and try to focus on the next opportunity and having a good possession.”

“We didn’t execute the right plays at crucial moments,” Halcovage added. “That was the difference in the game. We started to do it on our own.”

A couple of threes gave UB some hope in the final minute, but it couldn’t quite complete the comeback. The Bulls needed to play more or less perfectly to pull off a win in that circumstance, but it’s difficult to do that when the team is filled with players who are new to the roster and haven’t really played together. There’s something of a learning curve involved, and the process is a difficult one.

“We’ve got young guys who have been through almost a half of a season of college basketball, and they’ve been thrown into the fire a little bit and done a great job,” Halcovage said. “Unfortunately, we’ve haven’t gotten the continuity we’d have liked early. I think as we keep going here, if we keep our minds right and keep thinking about the team, we’re going to keep getting better. Part of that is learning to trust each other in those roles, because you are doing it for the first time together.”

Chatman led the Bulls again with 24 points, as he continues to be the team’s major scoring threat. He also had three goaltending violations at the other end; he said after the game he has to be a little more careful about that. Isaiah Adams and Sabol had 15 points each, while Anquan Boldin Jr. finished with 13. Seth Hubbard led Western Michigan (5-9, 2-0 MAC) with 19 points.

Halcovage, a first-year coach who is in the midst of starting his introductory tour around MAC at this point in the schedule, has been impressed by what he’s seen so far.

“It’s very similar to being in Villanova and the Big East,” he said. “There are great coaches. They run a lot of great stuff offensively. They pride themselves on being tough at the defensive end. You’re going to be in tough battles every night. There’s going to be physicality that you have to expect and embrace on a nightly basis. Each program has a little thing that it does differently.”

The next “battle” comes on Tuesday at home against Miami.

Notebook: UB legend Turner Battle found out on Saturday that his uniform number was going to be retired in the near future. He played for the Bulls from 2001 to 2005, and was the MAC player of the year in 2005 in leading the team to the NCAA Tournament. … UB had won its last 10 games against Western Michigan.

Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB.

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