KENT, OH - The Buffalo Bulls men's basketball team fell prey to one of the most dramatic conclusions in its long-standing rivalry with Kent State Wednesday evening, losing 83-81 in overtime on a buzzer-beating layup, robbing UB of a chance at its first-ever win at the M.A.C. Center.
The win moves Buffalo to 11-17 overall and 6-7 in the Mid-American Conference, while Kent State now pulls ahead in the East division standings on a tiebreaker with a 16-12 and 6-7 record.
Despite the loss, the Bulls played one of the strongest overall games of the season, with four different players scoring 13 points or more, highlighted by Javon McCrea nearly posting the program's first triple double (with 32 points, 15 rebounds, and eight blocks).
"It's tough, it was a hard-fought game. We had some good moments and they came back. They hit an incredibly difficult shot at the end of overtime," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "We had a similar shot at the end of regulation and we missed. We shot 50 percent from the field, we had ten turnovers and we held out opponent to under 40 percent shooting. They (Kent State) went to the glass and would not be denied."
Buffalo was locked in through the first half, finding easy baskets on nearly every trip down the court. On two-point field goals alone, the team shot 14-21 and received a solid effort from a trio of posts. McCrea scored 15 points, but the team was also boosted by ten points from Will Regan and nine points from Cameron Downing, who was a perfect 4-4 from the floor in the first 20 minutes.
With a consistent offense and a defense that blocked six shots and held its opponent to 35 percent, the Bulls led or were tied for all but 1:27 in the half. The Golden Flashes hung tough despite only two points from Chris Evans in the first half, thanks in large part to 14 points from fellow senior Randall Holt. With the three UB posts combining for 34 of the team's first-half total, though, Buffalo carried a 41-32 lead into the locker room.
A change to the Kent State lineup coming out of the half proved to be fruitful, as the Flashes worked its way back into the game due to the combination of Melvin Tabb and Darren Goodson. Tabb, who did not play at all in the first half, scored 12 points and added four offensive rebounds. Goodson scored 13 of his 18 total points in the final half, also with seven rebounds.
The Bulls expanded the lead to 12 at the 15:37 mark to force a timeout, but Kent State would methodically chip away at the lead. With Buffalo holding a 60-49 lead with 11:58 to play, the Flashes went on an 8-0 run to bring it back to three, and never allowed the Bulls to fully pull away. A layup from Tabb at the 5:38 gave Kent State its first lead of the half, but an and-one from McCrea and a Jarryn Skeete three pointer would put the Bulls back up five, 70-65. A 6-1 run capped by a Goodson three pointer tied the game at 71, and the two teams would trade a pair of points to enter overtime tied 73-all.
Thanks to a late turnover by Holt, the Bulls had a last-gasp opportunity to win it in overtime. With just four seconds left, Skeete took the ball three quarters of the way up the court and missed a running layup.
McCrea scored the first field goal of the extra period, but a pair of threes from Holt and Evans gave Kent State its largest lead of the game, 81-76, with just 1:19 to go. McCrea's 32nd point of the game would bring it back within one possession, and Kent State's Kris Brewer missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give the Bulls the ball with 36 seconds to play. Tony Watson, who was held in check all game by the opposition's zone defense, came through with a tremendous play to tie the game.
With 19 seconds to play, Watson hoisted a three and hit it despite being fouled and having his legs taken out on the follow-through. He would miss the go-ahead free throw, though, giving Kent State the ball with 18 seconds in an 81-81 game. Evans would hold for the last shot, driving to the right of the basket and hitting a high-banked shot off the window as the horn sounded.
The Bulls were outrebounded for just the fifth time all season, as the Golden Flashes erased a six-rebound deficit at halftime to own a 46-38 advantage in the game overall. Despite pulling down 21 offensive rebounds, though, Kent State was only able to accumulate a 20-16 edge in second-chance points.
McCrea finished as the game's leading scorer with 32 points. Regan would finish with 14 points, Downing would have 13 in just 19 minutes, and Skeete had one of his best scoring games with 14 points. Despite only taking five shots, Watson was able to contribute eight assists and a pair of steals.
The stretch run of the season will not get any easier for the Buffalo, as it returns home to host 24th-ranked Akron on Saturday. The game was moved up to a 6 pm tip, as it was recently picked up by SportsTime Ohio. It can also be seen on ESPN3.