MOUNT PLEASANT, MI - It wasn't a masterpiece, but then again winning at a venue where no current players have experienced a win is no easy feat.
The University at Buffalo men's basketball team fought through that to defeat Central Michigan (7-16, 2-8 MAC), 66-62, at McGuirk Arena on Wednesday night to extend its winning streak to seven and win a program-record fourth straight conference road game. Javon McCrea recorded a double-double to lead the way.
The Bulls (15-6, 8-2 MAC) ran out to an 11-point lead in the first half thanks to the hot hand of Zach Filzen, who responded after a 1-9 effort against Toledo with four threes in the first half to lead all scorers with 12. Auraum Nuiriankh also chipped in a pair of long-distance bombs for six of his 11 total points.
"Central played a combination of zone and box-and-1 against Zach and he was able to make some three along with some other guys," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "Then they switched to man-to-man and I think after a while we were able to find holes in that but it took us out of our rhythm."
For the second straight game, the frontcourt depth was tested by foul troubles. This time the victims were Mitchell Watt and Titus Robinson, who only managed six and nine minutes, respectively. Cam Downing again entered and provided a lift, and Xavier Ford skyed for three rebounds in his four minutes of relief off the bench.
Thanks to a hot half from downtown, UB was able to overcome a sluggish 1-8 from the free throw line and 6-15 performance from inside the three-point line. Taking a 34-23 lead into the locker room, the Bulls were forced to change up their style due to a Central Michigan team that found a new fire coming into the final frame.
After a Watt layup to open the half, Central came out with a 7-0 run to make the score 36-30. The two teams traded baskets before another Watt jumper gave Buffalo a 42-32 lead. Central again made a strong run, going on a 12-2 spurt thanks to two three pointers from Austin Keel that knotted the score at 44 at the 9:58 mark. The teams then traded off streaks again, with UB taking an 11-0 run thanks to two Nuiriankh three pointers and the Chips responding yet again coming off the mat with a 10-0 run to make the score 57-56 in Buffalo's favor with just 3:45 to play.
"We were able to go inside more in the second half but we didn't do it with enough rhythm to sustain it," Witherspoon said. "Defensively we were OK but we didn't have energy, the energy we really needed to close things out and put some distance on them."
With the team's back up against the wall, McCrea dished out a perfect pass to Watt for an "and-one" dunk that padded the Bulls lead, and the Chips would get no closer than four points for the rest of the way. Buffalo's rebounding dominance carried over from the Toledo game as it claimed a 48-27 advantage on the glass. The team's 14 offensive rebounds led to 18 second-chance points. McCrea's 16 points (on 7-11 shooting) and 10 rebounds gave him his third double double of the conference season. Watt pitched in 12 second-half points and seven rebounds while Jarod Oldham had three points, six assists and eight rebounds.
The Bulls will return to the friendly confines of Alumni Arena this Saturday for the finale of the crossover series with the MAC West. Western Michigan will come to town for a 6 pm game that will immediately follow the UB women's game against Central Michigan.