The University at Buffalo displayed plenty of scoring options against Toledo, but what the Bulls did defensively was more impressive.
UB, positioning itself for a higher seed in the upcoming Mid-American Conference Tournament, conducted a how-to session on defense while limiting the Rockets to 27.8 percent shooting in the first half and holding leading scorer Rian Pearson to just 10 points on Wednesday night. The Bulls won back-to-back games for the third time this season with a 75-60 pounding of Toledo in front of 2,338 in Alumni Arena.
The victory lifts the Bulls to 10-15 overall. More importantly, they are 5-6 in the MAC, tied for third place in the East Division with Kent State and Bowling Green, both of whom won games Wednesday. Akron and Ohio occupy the top two spots.
Toledo, which was held to just 32.4 percent shooting from the field, dropped to 11-11 overall and 7-4 in the conference.
Senior guard Tony Watson, starting his ninth game of the season, rained jump shots from all over Alumni and finished with a career-high 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 6 for 9 from three-point range. Junior Javon McCrea put together another outstanding performance with 14 points and a personal best 16 rebounds — the most by a UB player since Calvin Betts had 18 in the 2009 MAC Tournament quarterfinals against Kent State — and four blocks. Freshman point guard Jarryn Skeete added 17 points.
Althoiugh they collectively shot 51.9 percent and 50 percent from downtown, they were overshadowed by the UB defensive performance.
“I thought overall it was one of our best team defensive efforts,” UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of keeping them out of the paint. I thought we kept them from getting easy baskets for the most part.”
The game plan entering the contest for UB was to silence Pearson, the Rockets dynamic junior guard who averaged 22.5 points, 9.0 boards and 2.0 steals last week to earn MAC West Division Player of the Week honors. Immediately, the Bulls’ suffocating defense muted Pearson into a pedestrian effort for the entire game.
“We wanted to make his touches tough, we didn’t want him to catch the ball easily and comfortably,” Witherspoon said. “We wanted to make him really work to catch the basketball so he didn’t catch it on his spot in rhythm.”
Pearson was held without a field goal in the first half when he shot a glacial 0 for 5. He didn’t connect on his first field goal until the second half with Buffalo well ahead. He finished 3 of 12 from the floor, with Auraum Nuiriankh shadowing Pearson for most of the game.
“Before the game, the coaches harped on never being one-on-one and Auraum did an excellent job of making every catch that he had tough and we were in the ball box to help him out,” Watson said. “Javon was there to clean up.”
UB led 26-23 before closing the first half on a 9-2 run. McCrea scored six consecutive points then Watson canned a trey from the left corner. Toledo’s Richard Wonnell’s offensive rebound and basket ended the spurt as the Bulls took a 35-25 lead into halftime.
McCrea was dominant in the half with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Skeete added nine points and Watson seven. The Bulls also outrebounded the Rockets, 24-17.
Toledo is merely playing for pride.
The NCAA yanked three scholarships and banned the Rockets from postseason play because of substandard APR scores. But Toledo came to Alumni Arena looking to extend its winning streak to six games, its longest in six seasons.
Brown and Matt Smith each had 10 points for the Rockets.
UB sophomore forward Raphell Thomas-Edwards missed the game because of a hamstring injury.