The No. 14 seed Buffalo Bulls tried valiantly, but at the end, the No. 3 seed Miami Hurricanes were just a bit too much. The Bulls fell victim to the Hurricanes, 79-72, in an NCAA Tournament first round game played in Providence, R.I. on Thursday night.
The game started very well for Buffalo. Nick Perkins made his first three shots from downtown, and Jarryn Skeete added another to help build a 12-4 lead five minutes into the game.
Miami had trouble with Buffalo's defense in the early minutes. The Hurricanes gave up five turnovers and missed a number of shots, and that helped the Bulls build a 15-6 lead on a trio of C.J. Massinburg free throws. The nine point lead with 12:47 left in the half would be the biggest of the game for Buffalo.
Despite the positive start, there were some warning signs for the Bulls. They were having a lot of difficulty getting the ball inside; in fact, UB did not make a two-point basket until nearly midway through the first half. This allowed Miami to slowly chip away at Buffalo's lead.
The game really changed in Miami's favor during the final five minutes of the first half. Down 25-20, Sheldon McClellan got his own rebound off a miss, and the putback brought the Hurricanes within 25-22. To make matters worse, he turned it into a three-point play after a foul on Willie Conner.
That started a 9-0 run for Miami that gave them the lead for good. Ja'Quan Newton tied the game on a layup after he stole the ball from Skeete. A block from Angel Rodriguez led to a dunk from Davon Reed, then Newton turned a missed three into another basket for a 29-25 lead.
Buffalo stopped the bleeding and trailed just 35-33 at halftime, but they were shooting just 30 percent from the floor and had been outscored 24-4 in the paint.
In the second half, the Bulls watched as their deficit slowly grew increasingly larger. Every time they would score, it seemed, Miami would answer with a little bit more. By the time Tonye Jekiri threw down a thunderous dunk with 6:12 left on the clock, the Hurricanes led 63-51. That was their biggest lead of the game.
From there, Buffalo began chipping away. A three by Blake Hamilton brought them within six at 70-64, then Lamonte Bearden drove the lane for a layup after Miami split free throws. When McClellan turned the ball back over to Buffalo, they had a chance to make it a one-possession game.
Unfortunately, the Bulls came away empty on that key possession, as Hamilton lost the ball out of bounds. A short time later, Bearden had another chance after a bucket and a Hurricanes' miss made it a 72-68 game. This time, Bearden took a three but missed.
That was Buffalo's best and last chance. Miami made enough free throws in the final minute to come away with the 79-72 win.
Perkins finished the game with a career-high 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting (4-for-6 from beyond the arc). He added six rebounds. Bearden added 19 points but needed 16 shots to get them. Hamilton nearly had a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. Skeete, whose three opened the scoring for Buffalo, did not score again. C.J. Massinburg contributed 11 points before fouling out of the game with five minutes left.
For Miami, Rodriguez led all scorers with 24 points, and he posted seven rebounds. McClellan had 20, half of which came via his 10-for-13 performance at the free throw line. Reed (10 points, 12 rebounds) and Kamari Murphy (11 points, 13 rebounds) each had double-doubles, and Newton added ten points. Jekiri was the only bench player to score (four points) or play more than ten minutes.
Miami out-shot Buffalo 44.4 to 39 percent and out-rebounded the Bulls 44-31. They also got to the charity stripe for 34 free throw attempts and made 26 of those.
The Bulls conclude the 2015-16 season with a 20-15 record. Miami improves to 26-7 and will move on to the second round, where they will face either Arizona or Wichita State.