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CLEVELAND — Will Regan couldn’t keep his emotions in check any longer. He had to let it out. A huge smile he surely had been suppressing throughout the second half came wide across his face as he slapped skin with a teammate to celebrate yet another basket. Nights like this are once in a lifetime, if ever.

Regan, a sophomore forward, entered the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament with a career high of 26 points. He almost had that many in the second half alone in a blistering 36-point performance that carried UB to a startling, 76-61 victory over fifth-seeded Ball State. The Bulls, who trailed by 10 late in the first half, advanced to Thursday night’s quarterfinals against Kent State.

It looked like Regan was back at The Nichols School and operating at will as he hammered the Cardinals (15-15) to a pulp. He went 8 of 10 from the field while scoring 25 second-half points. He tormented the Cards from inside and out (4 of 4 from three in the second half). All told he was 11 of 17 from the field, pulled down five rebounds and produced three of UB’s 13 steals.

Javon McCrea added 18 points for UB although he was sidelined an extended part of the second half after taking a blow to the throat. Ball State senior guard Juwan Scaife, the MAC’s second-leading scorer at 19.9 a game, went for 28 but was a non-factor in the second half until after UB had built a 20-point lead.

UB shot a miserable 28 percent in the first half and seemed at a loss in the offensive end. It returned after intermission and barely missed, making 16 of 25 (64 percent) while the Cardinals went stone cold, connecting on just 6 of 24 shots.

It wasn’t as if Regan caught Ball State by surprise. He had 17 points in UB’s 66-63 victory there on Jan. 23 and struck for a season-high four treys in that game, including the winning shot in the waning seconds.

“He definitely had it going tonight, 5 of 7 on threes and one of the threes he missed rattled out,” said Ball State guard Jesse Berry. “We really didn’t stick to the defense plan we had and Regan was a key in our pregame. He was one that we talked about, and McCrea.”

“Have to pick a poison,” Scaife said. “In this particular game Regan was the one who got in a rhythm.”

The Bulls (14-19) trailed, 38-30, when Regan went to work early in the second half, hitting consecutive threes and finding McCrea backdoor for a layup that resulted in a conventional three-point play and a 39-38 lead.

“I think when I hit those first couple threes it really kind of put them in a dilemma,” Regan said. “We just started moving the ball really well and we were able to find everyone open after that.”

Regan had 26 against Niagara on Dec. 8 but his return to full comfort has been a process. He played sparingly in one season at Virginia then sat out last season as a transfer. He basically had two seasons away from game action going into this year.

“The more experience I get the more confident I feel,” Regan said. “I just think I’ve been feeling more comfortable with my teammates and the flow and everything, more confident. That’s just sort of grown as the season’s gone on.”

The Bulls trailed by six at the half. The Cardinals hammered them on the boards, coming up with 11 second-chance points. What kept UB close was the interior work of McCrea, the inside-outside game of Regan and a 12-of-13 showing at the free throw line.

UB’s offense was a strain on the eyes. The Bulls went 8 of 28 from the field, including 2 of 11 from behind the arc. Meanwhile, Ball State went 14 of 32 (44 percent) and made good on 5 of 11 from long range. Scaife’s trey after a scramble put the Cardinals on top, 26-24, with four minutes left. He then hit a 12-footer and a three off the second shot of a possession, an eight-point blitz that came with McCrea on the bench.

A Scaife trey and a Chris Bond steal and layup made it 36-26 and pushed UB to the ropes inside the final two minutes of the first half. Then, McCrea converted off a rebound and Regan made two free throws with 39.5 seconds left. Little did anyone know that was only the beginning of a 13-2 run spanning two halves that would spark UB’s resurgence.

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com