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The Buffalo Bulls came into the game struggling. They are much better than their record would indicate. They showed that early, taking a 10-7 lead at the first timeout at the 15:51 mark.
Akron battled back to tie with a 12-12 with an Isaiah Johnson free throw. Buffalo showed they wanted a game, eventually taking the lead, 22-14 on a Nick Perkins 3.
The only thing keeping Akron in the game at this point was Kwan Cheatham Jr’s play. Lucky for Akron, they also have Big Dog, Isaiah Johnson, who they then rode to the eventual halftime lead, 43-40. At times it looked like they were going to stretch the lead farther, but Buffalo always managed to battle back.
Cheatham had 14 points and 5 rebounds, while Johnson had 14 points and 6 rebounds to lead the Zips at the half.
The Bulls were led by Blake Hamilton with 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Willie Conner and Nick Perkins added 9 each.
The Bulls shot 51.7% from the floor in the first half, and Akron was only hitting 41.9%.
Buffalo came out of the second half ready to play, briefly taking the lead, but Akron is still Akron. They held the lead 53-48 at the first timeout of the second half.
Buffalo would not quit, and tied it up 58-58 at the 12 minute mark. At 8 minutes and change, they were still tied, 67-67. Then Cheatham hit an NBA range three, and asked for the crowd. They responded. After a Buffalo miss, he thanked them with another 3, his 6th of the night and Akron led 73-67. After another Buffalo miss, he hit another three from a little beyond NBA range, opening up a 9 point Akron lead. That was his 31st point, and his 7th three pointer.
Buffalo would not quit. Johnson had two shots at the free throw line, with the Zips leading 79-76, he missed both. The Bulls pulled withing 1, before Antino Jackson hit a couple free throws. A Jackson lay-up put the Zips up, 83-78.
Blake Hamilton and the Bulls decided the game wasn’t over, as he dropped a 3 to make it 83-81.
After that, Akron went to the line, and only hit some of their free throws, so we still had a game. It they hit them all, it was over. If they missed them all, Buffalo likely pulled out the win.
A Blake Hamilton trey eventually tied the game, 90-90. Isaiah Johnson went to the free throw line, with virtually no time left, and hit one of two. That pretty much summed up the night. Buffalo played great, but Akron was always the better team. Or at least the home team, so they pulled out the close win.
Throw the records out, on talent alone, these are the two best teams in the MAC. This particular match-up, it appeared Akron’s others tried a little too hard because Lebron was in the building. Buffalo still did some Buffaloing, with moments of piss poor shot selection, and bad decision making when they do decide to drive to the hoop. Both teams played well, but didn’t fire on all cylinders. Maybe we’ll get that in the tournament and another instant classic.
Cheatham scored 31 on 10-17 shooting and 7-13 from beyond the arc. He also grabbed 7 rebounds. Isaiah Johnson was also a monster, scoring 27 on 9-14 shooting and grabbing 10 boards. He was only 9-19 from the charity stripe, or this game wouldn’t have been as close. Don’t be too hard on him, because those 19 FT attempts put Buffalo in foul trouble.
While Buffalo played a great game, Blake Hamilton deserves a medal. He hit 13-16 shots, 4-4 from beyond the arc off the bench. Without his 33 points, Buffalo would have been competitive, but no real match. Willie Conner added 19, and CJ Massinburg 14 and 5 boards. Nick Perkins added 14 and 9 boards also off the bench.