This time last year, it was no surprise to see the Buffalo Bulls make it to the MAC Championship. Really, nobody really saw it coming this year, but here we are. Lamonte Bearden was one of three players on that Bulls roster to go dancing last year, and all he and the rest of the team wanted to do was keep up their hard work and get the job done. Back when he was suspended for a few games last month, it really gave him a chance to watch the team develop "not only as a team, but as characters, too."
Ohio started off with an 8-3 lead, four from MAC Player of the year Antonio Campbell, but the Bulls would string up a 11-0 run to grab their first lead of the game, thanks to 3-pointers from Jarryn Skeete and Nick Perkins. It didn't help that Ohio started missing a few easy looks, especially down low to get them in a 4-minute scoring drought before Campbell hit a 3-pointer for his seventh point.
The Bulls got up to as high as a 8-point lead after Lamonte Bearden hit a 3-pointer with under five minutes to go in the first half, but a pair of offensive rebounds by Campbell gave Ohio four second chance points to cut the lead in half.
Calls weren't going in Ohio's favor, but don't ever blame a game on the officiating, especially when you're not making shots. Buffalo went on a 13-5 run to close out the half as they made half of their 14 3-point shots. Nick Perkins, the freshman from Ypsilanti, Michigan, had three of those with 12 points at the break.
Both sides came out firing from 3-point range. Blake Hamilton, who didn't score int he first half, would hit three (Conner with one) while freshman Jordan Dartis would hit a pair for Ohio (Campbell and Kaminski would both hit one as well). That's eight 3-pointers in under four minutes, but the Bulls still held an 8-point advantage.
"Coach Oats did a great job in trying to get me involved in the second half," Hamilton said. "He did a great job of trying to get me going, and I got going, and the rest is history."
Obviously, Antonio Campbell was heavily highlighted for this game. Him shooting seven three-pointers, and ten inside the arc, was favorable to Oats, since he can certainly be a threat on the inside.
"It hurts because we had a shot and everybody in here knows it. We lost to a team that we lost to zero times, but they got us where it mattered most."
Willie Conner stayed hot having 12 points in the first half and 20 in the second, but Blake Hamilton being able to turn thing around on offense was vital to the Bulls' offense. With six and half minutes left, Hamilton would draw Jaaron Simmons' fourth foul, then karma would come back to him as Simmons would draw Hamilton's fourth on the next possession.
Nearing the 4-minute mark, Lamonte Bearden would hit a big 3-pointer (12 points) for Ohio to call a timeout, down by 15, the biggest hole they'd find themselves in. The Bobcats just never got over the hump though, and it would pretty much stay that way throughout.
"We didn't guard them any worse than we did at the Convo," Saul Phillips said.
Nine total players would end up with double-digit scoring -- four on Buffalo and five for Ohio. Conner and Hamilton would close out with 22 and 20, respectively, while all five of the Ohio starters would close between 16 (Campbell) and 12 (Kaminski). Bearden would have 15 points for the Bulls, nine assists while Simmons had eight for the Bobcats. Before fouling out, Campbell would have a double-double performance grabbing 11 rebounds in 36 minutes.
The 3-seed Bulls advance to the championship game again, will face Akron tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., and can be seen on ESPN2.