OXFORD, OH – Buoyed by 51 points combined from Tony Watson and Javon McCrea, the Buffalo men's basketball team held of the Miami (OH) Redhawks (8-16, 3-9 MAC) Saturday afternoon, 79-71. After setting a career high with 24 points against Toledo on Wednesday, Watson bested that effort with 31 points to help seal a crucial road win and get the Bulls (11-15, 6-6 MAC) closer to a top four position in the Mid-American Conference.
Watson was hot from the very start, scoring 16 points on a perfect 6-6 shooting performance, including all four three pointers. That would be important for the team, which shot just 7-20 combined alongside Watson in the opening half. The Redhawks shot a blistering 63 percent from the floor in the first half, but went into halftime down 39-36 to Buffalo due to a rash of early turnovers and an equally strong offensive performance from the Bulls. There were five ties and six lead changes in the first half alone, but an 8-1 run by UB to end the half helped to build momentum going into the locker room.
"We all knew the situation we were in, knowing that with a win we could make some moves in the standings, and I wanted to set the tone offensively right away," Watson said. "We did a great job of moving the ball and finding the open guys."
After a relatively quiet first half, McCrea found his pace in the second half. His jumper at the 17:41 mark of the second half gave Buffalo a lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the game. He would hit six of seven shots in the second half to score 20 for the game, adding in six rebounds.
The margin would sway from one to four points over the next four minutes before another UB run would provide some breathing room. Up 48-47 with 13:40 to go, Watson hit his fifth three of the game that sparked a 15-4 run for UB to get the lead all the way up to 12.
Miami would methodically chip away at the lead, getting it all the way down to one with 1:26 to play, mirroring the comeback Buffalo mounted in the last meeting between the divisional rivals on Jan. 12 at Alumni Arena. This time around, though, the Bulls were able to make the clutch plays to seal the win.
Up 70-69, Jarryn Skeete hit a pair of clutch free throws in a 1-and-1 to boost the lead to three. After Miami missed a would-be game tying three, Will Regan pulled down a rebound in traffic and was fouled with 36 seconds to play. He fought through a shoulder injury to cooly sink both free throws to make it a 74-69 game.
The Redhawks would hit two more free throws, but it fouled Watson before the next inbounds pass and Watson convert with his fourth and fifth free throws made. Not yet content, he then made a steal with under ten seconds left and capped off his day with an old-fashioned three point play after being knocked down on a breakaway layup.
"Again he (Watson) played 40 minutes, and in the last four games he's played all but three minutes," head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of his senior guard. "He's in a groove now, when we played him the first time he was in a bit of a funk but he's playing well now."
The win at Millett Hall was the team's first since the 2008-09 season, and just the second win there since 2003. This was also the first time all season that the Bulls scored 75 points or more in back-to-back games, and it is also the team's first three-game winning streak of the season.
"They (Miami) play you so hard and so gritty for so long that it's tough to keep your concentration for that long," Witherspoon said. "The key for us was to not turn the ball over, and I thought that and rebounding helped us out a lot. It was encouraging for our guys to get a few stops. I think it's obviously a good time of the year to be playing well, but we have to find a way to get better every day."
Next up will be the team's Ramada Worldwide Bracketbusters game at home Saturday against Manhattan. The game is set to tip at 2 pm.