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THE HARDER THEY COME
UB women look to build on a win. Will UB men ever change their bad habits? Your Saturday Buffalo Basketball Preview.
Image from espn.com
Wins are never easy in conference play, especially as the season winds on. The tape is out. There are no more secrets.
So what do you do? You adapt or die.
The University at Buffalo men’s and women’s basketball teams hit inflection points this week. The women, in the midst of a brutal losing streak, down four players, and seven hours from home on the rural Ohio-Indiana border, gutted out a Mid-American conference road win at Miami on Wednesday. The men, losers of three of their previous five MAC contests, were blown off their own home court by visiting Akron thanks to the same old problems—poor shooting, spotty defense, turnovers—plaguing them since November.
As we prep for today’s games, let’s take a look backwards, first.
Adapt: Shorthanded Bulls Hang On to Drop RedHawks
Image from espn.com
Coming off a moribund 69-47 loss at Akron last Saturday, perhaps their worst defeat of the season—certainly the most discouraging since falling to Drexel, 53-35, over Thanksgiving weekend—the UB women’s basketball team earned what may have be its most complete victory to date, hanging on to take out Miami, 81-76, in Oxford on Wednesday.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak and gave Buffalo a sixth-place tie in the Mid-American Conference standings with Western Michigan. The Broncos have lost three in a row since star guard Lauren Ross injured her wrist against the Bulls on Jan. 21.
The University at Buffalo women's basketball team (9-9, 4-5 MAC) led for all but 40 seconds and were clutch from the free throw line in the final minutes as they earned a hard-fought 81-76 win over Miami (OH) at Millett Hall on Wednesday night.
Four Bulls scored in double figures led by Re'Shawna Stone who scored 22 points. Fellow fifth year Zakiyah Winfield narrowly missed out on a double-double with 19 points and nine rebounds to go with four assists. Her backcourt mate Jazmine Young scored 15 points while freshman Hattie Ogden added 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc.
Buffalo shot 53.7% from the floor and 44.4% from beyond the arc while holding a 38-34 advantage in the paint while also scoring seven points off turnovers, six fastbreak points and recording eight second chance points.
“Just took some grit down the stretch, some toughness,” Buffalo head coach Becky Burke told ESPN after the game. “Ultimately, they showed they wanted to win this game more than anything. They’ve showed that in the last two days at practice. This team’s gone through a lot. I’m really proud of them.”
Burke used one reserve—swing Latrice Perkins—in the win, as Stone, Winfield, Young, Ogden, and forward Emerita Mashaire (nine points, seven rebounds) each played at least 32 minutes. The sextet combined to shoot better than 50 percent from the field for the third time in four games after previously hitting that mark just twice this season.
UB is shooting 43.4 percent from the floor overall, according to HerHoopStats.com.
Buffalo led by 15 at the half, but the RedHawks (8-14, 3-6) used a pair of big second-half runs to turn the game into a nail-biter:
Ogden hit a big three on UB's first possession of the fourth quarter and after a 5-0 Miami run, Stone responded with a three from the top of the key to put the Bulls up 59-50. Young continued to stay aggressive as she scored four straight points and later, she found Ogden in the corner for a spot up triple to put UB up by 10 and force a Miami timeout at the 5:29 mark. The RedHawks used a 10-0 run out of the timeout to tie the game at 66 with just over three minutes to play before Stone ended the run with a reverse layup off glass. Young pulled down a massive offensive rebound and got the putback to drop for the and-one bucket and then Stone got to the rim for two as UB went up by five with just over one minute remaining. Mashaire and Winfield came up big at the charity stripe making four straight, but Miami answered with threes on two straight possessions to pull within three with 25 seconds remaining, but Winfield and Stone converted four free throws to seal the victory.
“We’re evolving,” Burke said. “We’re improving. No more excuses. We’ve got to start playing our best basketball right here, and I believe we will.”
UB is currently 225th in the NCAA NET rankings.
Senior guard Peyton Scott scored a game-high 27 points for Miami. Sophomore guard Ivy Wolf and senior forward Amani Freeman each had 12 points in defeat.
Here Come the Huskies (2 p.m., Alumni Arena, ESPN+)
Image from niuhuskies.com
It’s been a disappointing season for Northern Illinois (10-10, 2-7). Picked to finish fifth in the MAC preseason poll—just below the big four of Toledo, Ball State, Bowling Green, and Kent State—the Huskies are currently mired in 10th place in the conference, 218th in NCAA NET, and rank as one of the worst defensive teams per 100 possessions in the country. NIU relies heavily on three-point shooting, which, at a 35 percent clip, is literally a hit-or-miss proposition. Northern Illinois also allows opponents to shoot over 50 percent from the field.
Not a great formula. From NIUHuskies.com:
NIU wrapped up the first half of Mid-American Conference play Wednesday night with a 76-68 loss at first place Ball State. The Huskies cut a 12-point deficit down to four midway through the fourth quarter, but could not overcome the Cardinals' hot shooting from the field. Janae Poisson (pictured above) led the Huskies with 19 points. It was the fifth time this season the graduate guard led NIU in scoring off the bench. Poisson made five three-pointers against Ball State, her sixth game this season with at least three three-pointers.
A'Jah Davis had her 13th double-double of the year Wednesday night with 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. The senior forward has had double-digit rebounds in each of her last 15 games and leads the MAC in rebounding at 11.4 per game. Davis is in the top-10 nationally in rebounding, offensive rebounding and double-doubles. In four games against Buffalo, Davis is averaging 14.0 points and 14.5 rebounds per game.
The Huskies enter Saturday's game having won six of the last eight meetings against the Bulls. Buffalo and NIU split the two regular season games last season, with each team winning on its home floor.
This is a big one for the Bulls. A win could essentially remove Northern Illinois from contention; a loss would drop Buffalo into the morass with other struggling squads like Eastern Michigan (3-6 in MAC play), Miami, Central Michigan (2-7), and Ohio (2-7)—all of whom UB has beaten this season. It is, as Bill Simmons would say, a draw-the-line-in-the-sand game.
Tipoff is 2 p.m.
Around the MAC in Women’s Basketball Today
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Kent State at Ball State, 11 a.m. The premier conference matchup of the day starts before lunchtime. The Golden Flashes (14-6, 6-3, 111th in NCAA NET, 19th in the CollegeInsider.com Women’s Mid-Major Top 25) come into Muncie as winners of four of their last five, and are a slightly better defensive outfit than the Cardinals (18-4, 8-1, 75th in NCAA NET, seventh in the WMMT25). BSU, however, has a win over conference-leading Bowling Green, and may be the best team in the MAC. Worth watching on ESPN+.
Akron at Western Michigan, noon. The bloom is off the rose for the Broncos (9-11, 4-5, 226th in NCAA NET) since Ross went down with a season-ending injury two weeks ago. It’ll be tough to bounce back against Akron (14-6, 5-4, 133rd in NCAA NET, 26th in the WMMT25), which lost a heartbreaker to arch-rival Kent State, 57-55, at home earlier this week.
Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan, 1 p.m. The Chippewas (4-16, 2-7, 283rd in NCAA NET) have lost seven of their last eight games and are likely done for the season with a loss today. The Eagles (11-9, 3-6, 236th in NCAA NET) are in eighth place and have a little more postseason hope—with WMU fading and Buffalo a question mark, EMU could realistically move as high as sixth (or even fifth, depending on what direction Akron goes) by stringing together some Ws.
Miami at Bowling Green, 1 p.m. Things do not get easier for the RedHawks after their loss to UB on Wednesday. BGSU—undefeated at home this season—does not suffer weaker opponents. The Falcons (19-2, 8-1, 58th in NCAA NET, sixth in WMMT25) have lost once since Nov. 19 and have won by double-digits 13 times in that stretch.
Ohio at Toledo, 2 p.m. In stretches, the Bobcats (4-16, 2-7, 273rd in NCAA NET) will look like a competent team. Case in point: a 10-point win over Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti earlier this week. Peel that onion back, however, and you’ll see a team that turned the ball over 19 times and shot under 38 percent from the floor in the victory. Toledo (16-4, 7-2, 71st in NCAA NET, eighth in WMMT25) ranks among the nation’s top 50 in offensive rating, the top 75 in defensive rating, and has four rotation players shooting over 35 percent from three, according to HerHoopStats.com. Good luck, Ohio.
Die: UB Men Still Can’t Hang With the Top Teams in the MAC, Fall to Akron By 17
Image from ubbulls.com
Among the things I hate in life, being wrong is right up there with guys who don’t unload their weights when they’re done lifting and coffee lids that refuse to stay on the cup. And, since the UB men’s basketball team seems intent on making me look wrong every time I write something nice about them, I’m starting to question how kind I should be towards this entertaining yet inscrutable team.
The Bulls (10-12, 4-5, 179th in NCAA NET) lost, 81-64, to conference-leading Akron at home on Tuesday, just three days after losing to second-place Kent State, 74-68, last Friday. The defeat to the Golden Flashes, I argued in my last newsletter, had its merits—KSU is a good team, UB never quit, and after a rough start, Buffalo righted the ship and played their hosts pretty tight.
Not the case on Tuesday.
The Bulls trailed by 12 points less than eight minutes into the game, were down by 20 after 14 minutes, and never got closer than 11 the rest of the way. A 9-0 run to cut a 21-point deficit to 12 with 5:54 remaining in the game was, I suppose, a sign of life, a blip on the monitor, but that quickly faded, too.
Image from ubbulls.com
There were warning signs coming into this game, not the least of which is the fact the Zips (17-6, 9-1, 98th in NCAA NET, 28th in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25) are really good. After last night’s 12-point victory over hated rival Kent State—what a game!—Akron’s won eight in a row and, like the Golden Flashes before them, may start getting votes in the national polls.
UB point guard Armoni Foster missed this game with a bad wrist, meaning sophomore reserve Kidtrell Blocker was going to spend a lot of time face-to-face with the Zips’ high-scoring guard, Xavier Castenada. Castenada promptly scored 32 points for the third time in four games, including a seven-for-eight performance from three.
Six-foot-seven forward Enrique Freeman—an intense rebounder and shot-blocker who plays like a seven-footer—was probably always going to be a problem in this one. He was, indeed. Freeman scored 18 points and grabbed nine boards in 38 minutes while essentially breaking the Bulls’ big men—Isaac Jack (who played just 12 minutes), Jo Smith, LaQuill Hardnett, and deep reserve Zaakir Williamson, combined for 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Image from ubbulls.com
But the real story, of course, was the same old stuff.
UB has to take better care of the ball. UB has averaged nearly 15 turnovers a game, and its opponents have averaged 15.6 points per game off turnovers. The Bulls had 18 turnovers against Akron, which scored 26 points off turnovers, including 19 points off UB’s 11 first-half turnovers.
Kenpom.com, the respected college basketball analytics site, also reveals an interesting statistic: UB began Tuesday 341st of 363 teams in Division I in non-steal turnover percentage by opponents (10.8%), which are unforced turnovers per game, including errant passes and balls that go out of bounds.
“The turnover area has been an area where we're not been where we need to be at," UB coach Jim Whitesell said. "That shows there. That would be a big part of our execution."
UB needs to start games stronger. By the time Akron took a 28-12 lead about 12 1/2 minutes into the game, the Bulls were 5 for 20 from the floor, and finished 8 for 26 in the first half.
The disappointing part of all of the losing—and the Bulls have lost five of seven—are the things that don’t seem to get better. You see the big offensive explosions against teams like Bowling Green and Ball State (who are each pretty good!), and then it’s just back to the same boneheaded turnovers, the same off-target shooting.
Image from ubbulls.com
“I’m not giving up on this group,” Whitesell told The Buffalo News. “This group can do a lot of special things. The big thing is, you’ve got to hang in there and you’ve got to fight, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Well, great, Jim! It would be kind of messed up if you did.
I’m done commenting on Whitesell for now, as well. Earlier this week, I complimented him for the fact that UB was playing a little better on defense, and have generally been a strong rebounding team—something not expected when the season started. But here we are, once again, bemoaning turnovers and poor shooting. I will simply comment that those areas are also very much the products of coaching. If your players consistently make the same mistakes, or lack the motivation to improve their game, well…
Can the Bulls Bust The Broncos, Ease The Road Woes? (2:30 p.m., ESPN3)
Image from ubbulls.com
Another Rachel Lenzi note that hits an issue we’ve been harping on this past month:
One thing that wasn’t mentioned: winning games on the road. UB is 2-9 away from home, including 1-6 in true road games. Its only conference road win was a 91-65 trouncing last week at Ball State. Five of UB’s final nine games are on the road. The Bulls play Saturday at Western Michigan and must convincingly prove they can play away from Alumni Arena.
The Broncos (6-16, 2-7, 305th in NCAA NET) are not good right now. The team has a new coach, longtime Michigan State assistant Dwayne Stephens, and a pair of talented Godwin Heights High School (Grand Rapids, Mich.) teammates in Markeese Hastings and Lamar Norman, Jr., and not a lot more. Given that trio, however, this may be one of the last times Buffalo can expect to kick WMU while it’s down.
Image from wmubroncos.com
Here’s what Western Michigan has to say for itself:
The Broncos are coming off of a 73-59 setback on Tuesday evening against NIU. Markeese Hastings (pictured above) had a huge night for Western Michigan, posting 22 points and 19 rebounds. It was the sixth double-double of the season and 10th of his career for Hastings.
After ranking near the bottom of the MAC in most rebounding categories a season ago, WMU is currently atop the league in overall rebounding (38.6), rebounding margin (+7.6) and offensive rebounding (12.9). Nationally, the Broncos are currently 12th in rebounding margin, 21st in offensive rebounding and 32nd in overall rebounding.
Western Michigan was plus-14 (49-35) on the glass, including a 23-10 edge in offensive rebounding on Tuesday.
Hastings enters the weekend second in the MAC in total rebounds (226, 16th nationally), rebounds per game (10.3, 12th) and defensive rebounds per game (7.2, 15th). He is one of 15 players in NCAA DI to average double-digit rebounds this season. Hastings had a career-high 20 rebounds on Jan. 6 at Toledo, one of 13 20-rebound games in DI this year.
After tallying 10 points on Tuesday, Lamar Norman Jr. has scored in double-figures in 47 of his 51 games as a Bronco. The senior has led WMU in scoring 37 times in his career, including 12 times this season. Norman is fifth in the MAC in scoring at 18.0 points per game.
Norman Jr. is second in the MAC in both made three-pointers (62, 45th nationally) and made three's per game (3.0, 30th).
Saturday is the 35th meeting in the all-time series between WMU and Buffalo, with the Bulls owning a 21-13 lead. Buffalo swept the season series last year and has won nine straight meetings.
A team that can shoot threes and rebound? Sounds dangerously like the formula used by Central Michigan to upset Buffalo two weeks ago. The Bulls are 3-9 in weekend games this season—hopefully the team got a good night’s sleep in Kalamazoo.
Around the MAC in Men’s Basketball Today
Image from getsomemaction.com
Ball State 91, Eastern Michigan 90. Get this:
In front of Worthen Arena's largest crowd (6,068) since 2009 and a national TV audience, Ball State men's basketball won its most exciting game of the season, a 91-90 overtime thriller over Eastern Michigan.
The triumph improved BSU to 16-7 and 7-3 in the Mid-American Conference, its best start since the 1999-2000 season, which marked the program's most recent NCAA Tournament appearance.
It was a battle between team and individual greatness, with all five Cardinals starters scoring 13 or more points while Eagles star sophomore Emoni Bates exploded for 35. BSU's early 23-13 lead evaporated midway through the first half, setting up a continuous back-and-forth affair that featured no shortage of highlights, emotion and atmosphere.
While Bates shined with 25 second-half points, including nine straight to start the extra period, it was sophomore center Payton Sparks who countered the former 5-star high school recruit's barrage. BSU's big man was nearly unstoppable in the paint, notching 22 points (9-of-13 shooting), 15 rebounds (season high), four assists and three blocks for his sixth double-double of the year.
Just want UB hoops to be back to the place where Alumni Arena is packed, people are going crazy, the team has a buzz.
Speaking of which…
Image from beaconjournal.com
Akron 67, Kent State 55. From Cleveland.com:
The top two teams in the Mid-American Conference met Friday night, continuing the intense rivalry between the Kent State and Akron. Xavier Castaneda scored 24 points, Enrique Freeman added 19 points and 17 rebounds to help the Zips secure a 67-55 win over the Flashes.
Sincere Carry led the Flashes with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
The teams were tied atop the MAC, but Akron now moves into first at 9-1 (17-6 overall). Kent State drops to 8-2, 18-5.
If you have an ESPN+ account, I highly recommend you go back and watch this game. So much fun. The white out at the JAR, the back-and-forth with Sincere Carry and the Akron fans, Castenada and Freeman doing their thing…this is what MAC basketball can be. We’ve had this in Buffalo, and we can’t wait to see it like this here again.
Miami at Ohio, 2 p.m. The last-place RedHawks (7-15, 1-8, 323rd in NCAA NET)—whose sole win in conference play is against Buffalo 😬 — face the Bobcats (11-11, 3-6, 157th in NCAA NET), a team the NET inexplicably loves. Was it the win over #122 Youngstown State?
Northern Illinois at Bowling Green, 5 p.m. The quietly frisky Huskies (9-13, 5-4, 263rd in NCAA NET) have won four of their last six behind David Coit’s 15.7 points per game. The Falcons (10-12, 4-5, 249th in NCAA NET), like UB, have lost five of seven, and also sit perilously on the edge of postseason contention.
Central Michigan at Toledo, 7 p.m. The Rockets (16-6, 7-2, 107th in NCAA NET, 18th in the MMT25) have two top 10 MAC scorers—RayJ Dennis (19 points per game) and J.T. Shumate (18 points per game)—a top-10 rebounder in Setric Milner, Jr. (6.1 boards per game), two top-10 three-point shooters with Dante Maddox, Jr. (.437) and Shumate (.429), and the leader in assists (Dennis, 5.9 per game). The Chippewas (8-14, 3-6, 313th in NCAA NET) do have a couple upsets under their belt, and could use one today to stay in the MAC postseason hunt.