By Budd Bailey
For those fans who prefer a nice, relaxing evening of sports entertainment without the slightest chance of any drama, Tuesday night’s game between the University at Buffalo and Central Michigan was for you.
The Bulls gave up the game’s first basket, and then ran away from the Chippewas in a 63-35 rout at Alumni Arena. And it wasn’t that close. Really, there were times when it would have been appropriate for a boxing referee to walk on to the court, wave his hands in front of CMU’s players, and say, “You’ve suffered enough, guys. Let’s go home.”
As the score would indicate, the Buffalo defense was in great form in helping the team move to 13-15 overall, 7-8 in the MAC. The win also ended a three-game losing streak.
“I thought we were really sharp in the first half,” coach Jim Whitesell said. “We had 17 or 18 deflections at the half. We drew some charges, got down the floor, created some offense off our defense. It was a good way for us to get going and get done.”
Want some numbers? Central Michigan shot 29.8 percent from the field, including an eye-catching 0 for 13 from three-point land. The Chippewas even had trouble from the free throw line, going 7 for 14.
The 36 points allowed were a season’s best by UB. The old standard was 53 points by St. John Fisher, a Division III team. To do this against a team that came into the night a game behind the Bulls in the MAC standings (now 10-18, 5-10) was quite unexpected.
The tone was set rather early – as in the first 10 minutes. The Bulls gave up an opening dunk, and then scored the next 20 points. CMU couldn’t do anything in that stretch.
“Defense to offense – that really helped get our game going,” UB’s Isaiah Adams (12 points) said. “I get a block, and I come down and hit a three. Stuff like that happened in the game. We all were having fun out there. That’s when we play our best.”
“The game can change so quick with a three and a foul,” Whitesell said. “Kids can get deflated real quick when you have a big lead. That was my big concern. … I really liked our first four minutes, then our first eight minutes, and our first 10 minutes. Really good job.”
The Chippewas had a brief flurry to cut the margin to 20-8, only to have UB have a 12-0 run to go ahead by 32-8. The halftime score was 36-14.
And if Central Michigan had the briefest of thoughts that it could try to climb back in the game, Buffalo crushed those hopes with a 13-0 run to start the second half. That made the score an absurd 40-14. CMU had a 12-1 run at that point, but 12 straight points by the Bulls ended any hopes of even a respectable outcome for the visitors.
“It was good to have that (collection of runs), but it was mostly just (defensive) stops,” Curtis Jones of UB said. “When you play a team for the second time or third time, you pick up some of the concepts that were there from the first game. You can practice it. It’s never easy to play defense, but you remember some of their actions which makes it a little easier to guard.”
Whitesell’s biggest task at that point was trying to figure out exactly when to clear the bench. There are tougher assignments in the world of basketball coaching.
“You want to keep a good rotation, keep a good momentum,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we guarded (Brian Taylor). He’s a kid that’s had 30 (in a game) this year. He can get you 10 in two minutes. That was my concern – let’s keep someone on him that will do a good job of defending. The good thing for us was that no one played heavy minutes for the team. LaQuill Hardnett had 30 minutes.”
It was a necessary victory for the Bulls, who are trying to finish in the top eight of the conference standings to earn a spot in the conference tournament in Cleveland in early March. They have some breathing room, but a powerful Toledo team certainly will offer more resistance on Saturday afternoon in a game played in Ohio.
“Our goal is to get to Cleveland and win in Cleveland Jones (14 points) said. “We’re just to trying to get to that goal.”
“You worry about winning that game,” Whitesell said. “All of your conference games are huge, but especially now. Now we want to go on the road for the next two games and play well.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)