By Budd Bailey
It was easy to determine what happened Friday night in the men’s basketball game between the University at Buffalo and Ohio University at Alumni Arena. The Bulls were no match for the Bobcats, dropping a 74-53 decision.
The tough part came in trying to assign responsibility for the one-sided outcome. Were the Bulls that bad, or the Bobcats that good?
The easy way would be to say that it was a little bit of both, and that probably was the case. But UB coach Jim Whitesell deserves some credit for immediately expressing his dismay about the game when starting his postgame news conference.
“I’m incredibly disappointed in our performance,” Whitesell said. “That’s the best way I can sum it up. It’s as simple as that. I’m surprised.
“You can give them a lot of credit. They are an outstanding team. Their record indicates that. We knew we’d have to play a high-level game. We certainly didn’t do that at all.”
It was one of those nights when the Bulls (10-8, 4-4 MAC) never seemed to get in any sort of offensive rhythm. Buffalo shot 38.2 percent from the field, 23.8 percent on three-pointers. The game was tied, 9-9, after a little more than five minutes, but it felt like the Bobcats were on the verge of taking charge.
“The first four minutes I think we had five at-the-rims, and we didn’t make any of them,” Whitesell said. “You’ve got to go up and finish them. What that happens, you have to continue to play and dig on the defensive end.”
Sure enough, an 8-0 burst gave Ohio a 17-9 lead. After trading baskets for a while, the Bobcats closed out the half with a 13-2 run that made it 37-20. They certainly looked like a team that was on its way to going 16-3 (7-1 in the MAC) for the season.
“When they jumped the passing lanes, we didn’t react at all,” Whitesell said. “We got stuck all time. We had nine assists and 16 turnovers (for the game). We’d want to flip that. We didn’t move. We didn’t get our running game going. We didn’t run to score; we ran just to run. We’d push the ball down a bit and then let them get set, so we didn’t have an advantage at the rim.”
“They were the more aggressive team on both ends,” Jeenathan Williams of UB added. “They helped each other. They played team defense. They got good shots.”
The second half was an unusual one at least in the statistical sense. You’d expect the Bulls to make some sort of run at Ohio after such a dreary first half. UB tried a few times, but didn’t get close to reducing the lead under double digits at any point. In fact, the Bobcats’ lead stayed between 16 and 23 points throughout the final 20 minutes.
Two of Ohio’s standouts played an important role in the game. Forward Jason Carter scored 10 points in the first 13 minutes to help his team gain an early lead. He and fellow forward Ben Vander Plas combined for 28 points and 20 rebounds.
Buffalo’s defense did a good job of Ohio’s leading scorer, Mark Sears, at first. He only had one point after 16 minutes of play. But good scorers have a way of getting their points, and Sears certainly did that. He had eight points in the final four minutes of the first half, and finished the game with 27 points on 9 of 18 shooting.
“He’s got a lot of people looking at him. He’s outstanding,” Whitesell said. “He controls it. Carter really got going early. We did a poor job of guarding him. He took it to the basket several times. Our help wasn’t very good, and our ball pressure wasn’t very good. We did this collectively together – we lost as a coaching staff and as a team.”
As for UB, it’s been a team that relies on Williams to lead the way offensively. But he struggled on this night, going 5 for 15 on field goals and 1 for 5 on three-pointers. He finished with 13 points, while David Skogman had 11.
“We’ve got to get back to playing Buffalo basketball,” said Maceo Jack, who was honored before the game for scoring his 1,000th point in college basketball – most of them coming at George Washington
It’s been a disappointing week for UB, which came into this stretch on a four-game winning streak. The Bulls knew that they had a chance to scramble the MAC standings a bit when they played the two best teams in the conference. Buffalo played well at Toledo for most of the game but faded down the stretch to lose on Tuesday. Then came the loss Friday night.
“Much is expected out of our program and our team, and it should be,” Whitesell said. “That’s disappointing. It comes down to playing max effort. You’ve got to be able to play at both ends of the floor. They kept the ball moving, and we did not. When they missed shots, they got second and third shots.”
The Bulls have a little time to practice and try to fix things in the week ahead. Their next game is at Central Michigan on February 5.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)