Miami held a halftime lead over Buffalo in this one, but it clearly was not enough as the Bulls (18-8, 12-4 MAC) completely dismantled the RedHawks (11-16, 7-9 MAC) in the second half and won 78-55.
There was a nice moment prior to tip-off, as the Bulls’ Javon McCrea was presented with a personalized basketball to honor his recent achievement of becoming Buffalo’s all-time leading scorer. McCrea motioned for his teammates to come out to center court to celebrate the moment with him.
Once the game began, Buffalo jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead thanks to its ability to grab rebounds; the Bulls were out-rebounding Miami 6-2 at this point, and four of those were offensive boards. The RedHawks tied the game up at 9-9 and had two opportunities to take a lead after forcing two Buffalo turnovers on consecutive possessions; however they couldn’t finish on the offensive end.
Those were two pretty big early chances for Miami. For a team that doesn’t rebound or score particularly well, one of the RedHawks’ calling cards has been forcing turnovers. The ability to give themselves extra chances to score is only an advantage if they can finish those scoring opportunities. Not surprisingly Buffalo did make them pay, rattling off a little 7-0 run to take a 16-9 lead with 12:38 left in the half.
Just when it seemed like the Bulls were ready to pull away, the RedHawks really picked their game up and started to take control. Quinten Rollins sliced his way through the Buffalo defense on three straight possessions for six points, putting his squad within one (18-17). That was the start of a 13-0 run for Miami that was capped off by a layup from Willie Moore, giving the RedHawks a 24-18 advantage. After a bucket from Javon McCrea (the first Buffalo points in over six minutes), Will Sullivan responded with a 3-pointer to put the score at 27-20, Miami’s biggest lead of the game to that point.
The Bulls regained the lead with an 8-0 run in the closing minutes of the half, which was punctuated by a blocked shot from 6’3" guard Jarryn Skeete on 7-footer John Hawkins that sent the Alumni Arena crowd to its feet. The lead didn’t last long though, thanks to a three from Jaryd Eustace with just seconds left on the clock that gave Miami a 30-28 halftime lead.
It was a rough first half for Buffalo, especially in terms of taking care of the ball. In its previous four games, Buffalo has averaged just nine turnovers a game. The Bulls had reached that number by the third media timeout, and they finished the half with 11 turnovers overall.
Both teams hung tight with each other to start the second half, with neither Buffalo nor Miami holding more than a two-point lead until a three from Jarod Oldham gave the Bulls a 39-35 advantage with 14:31 to go. Oldham’s trey sparked a Buffalo run that put it ahead of Miami 45-35, the first double-digit lead for either team on the day.
The back-and-forth nature of the game soon became a very distant memory as the Bulls completely took over. After allowing the RedHawks to pull within nine, 57-48, Buffalo went on a 17-1 run and went up by 25. With the game in hand the Bulls cleared the bench in the final minutes and left the court with a 78-55 victory in hand.
What a tale of two games this one was. The RedHawks really seemed to have it together on offense in the first half, taking the ball to the hoop and getting to the line where they really excel, currently ranking 14th in the nation in free throw shooting. Defensively they were forcing turnovers from a team that has been taking care of the ball really well the last few games. But Miami’s second half failures were very much highlighted by Buffalo’s successes. The Bulls shot 68 percent for the half and won the turnover battle, forcing nine while only giving up five.
For MAC Tournament purposes, Miami really could have used this game. The RedHawks are currently slotted as the eight seed, but both Kent State and Bowling Green are just a game back in the win column. Miami will finish out the season with a big game this week against the Golden Flashes on the road and then at home against Ohio next Saturday. Buffalo really helped itself today towards its goal of getting one of the top-two seeds and a bye straight into the semis. The Bulls finish up their season on the road against Akron and at home against Bowling Green.