For 30 minutes Saturday night, UB looked like the worst team in the Mid-American Conference. Its offense was a shambles and rendered almost useless by Miami of Ohio’s changing and extending defenses. As for their own defense ... what defense? The RedHawks were carving them up almost at will.
And then for 10 minutes the Bulls looked as good as anybody in the MAC. They held the RedHawks to four points and no field goals over the final 10 minutes and 20 seconds. They repeatedly riddled the RedHawks on the inside, punished them on the offensive glass and gained control of a game that not long before appeared a galaxy away.
Rarely can 30 slovenly minutes be erased by a frantic, desperate 10-minute surge to save face. And ultimately that was the case in UB’s conference home opener before 3,284 at Alumni Arena. The Bulls roared from 21 points down with 10 minutes left, led by one with a minute to go but fell, 58-57, on two Allen Roberts free throws with 7.5 seconds remaining.
UB moved the ball over half court, called its final timeout but never got off another shot. As a five-second violation neared, Auraum Nuiriankh forced an inbounds pass that Joe McKnight intercepted high atop the key and Miami had become just the eighth opponent to leave Alumni Arena a winner over the course of UB’s last 36 conference home games.
“We didn’t confront our opponent until there was about 10 minutes left in the game,” Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “I thought we had good energy after that. We didn’t close it out.”
“After a while it’s like man, we’ve been through so much and we’re going to let this happen?,” said Javon McCrea, UB’s top scorer with 19 points. “In MAC play? Down by 20 points to Miami of Ohio? I think it was just a reality check. We needed to play harder. Something needed to change.”
Roberts made both ends of a one-and-one following a blocking call against Nuiriankh in the vicinity of the foul line. It was a debatable call and one made by an official – Chris Beaver – who’s hit the Bulls with some highly questionable calls in the past. But UB can’t fall back on that excuse. The trio of McCrea, Tony Watson and Nuiriankh misplayed a defensive rebound that would have given UB the ball up one with 26 seconds left.
“We grab the ball, we get fouled the game’s over,” McCrea said. “I actually did try to go get it but I think it hit off Tony or Auraum’s leg ... and it went out of bounds.”
And then there was the matter of Roberts’ poise at the foul line with the game in the balance. As bad as the Bulls were offensively the opening 30 minutes, Miami was worse the final 10.
“That last 10 minutes was a slump and we had to fight through it and try to get through it,” Roberts said. “We had some mistakes, which comes in a game. We missed some block outs. We had some turnovers. We had some missed assignments on defense and they were on a run. ”
The burden fell on Roberts, a junior guard who led all scorers with 22 points. He remembered earlier in the day, at shootaround, when coach John Cooper told his players to keep quiet during free-throw practice.
Concentrate. Focus. Roberts remembered and sank both free throws clean as could be.